TULUM, Mexico – Since the inauguration of the Tulum International Airport, the Mexican Secretariat of National Defense (Sedena) has implemented a fee of 933 pesos (about USD 47) for federal license plate carriers to transport passengers from the airport. This measure has become unsustainable for approximately a thousand service providers who are now threatening to discontinue their services.
The fee has significantly increased the cost of ground transportation from the airport, making it exorbitantly expensive for passengers to travel to key destinations such as downtown Tulum and Playa del Carmen. Despite ongoing dialogues and requests made to Sedena, the organization has not relented in reducing the tariff. The service providers are members of the Mexican Association of Tourist Transporters of Quintana Roo, highlighting the collective concern within the local transportation industry.
The airport is managed by a state-owned commercial entity called the Olmeca-Maya-Mexica Railroad and Auxiliary Services Airport Group, established by Sedena and led by General Javier Diego Campillo. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador officially inaugurated the airport on December 1, handing it over to Sedena’s administration as part of his Fourth Transformation project. Consequently, the fare to leave the Tulum International Airport to the city center is now 2,400 pesos (about USD 120), and 2,800 pesos (about USD 140) to Playa del Carmen.
Critics argue that the fee lacks legal foundation, as receipts provided to passengers are labeled as parking fees rather than charges for transporting passengers. The Tulum International Airport “Felipe Carrillo Puerto,” situated near the Maya community of Chunyaxché, was constructed by the Felipe Ángeles Engineer Group and began operations on December 1, following its inauguration by President López Obrador.
Two months into its operation, the airport hosts three domestic airlines: Aeroméxico, Mexicana, and Viva Aerobus, with international flights expected to commence in March. The airport’s infrastructure is strategically located approximately 35 kilometers from Tulum’s city center and 80 kilometers from Playa del Carmen, the heart of the Riviera Maya. In contrast, Playa del Carmen is about 50 kilometers from the Cancún International Airport, which remains the more cost-effective option for tourists.
At Cancún’s privately managed airport by the Southeast Airport Group (Asur), transporters are charged a right-of-way fee of 25 pesos (about USD 1.25), a stark contrast to the fees at Tulum. Despite transporters’ protests and mobilizations at the airport, the situation remains unchanged, leading to speculation that Sedena intends to monopolize ground transportation services.
Roberto Rubio Sánchez, president of the Mexican Association of Tourist Transporters of Quintana Roo, expressed his dismay at the government’s exclusion of Quintana Roo’s transportation permit holders, suggesting a move to establish its own transportation company. The high transportation costs have made ground travel more expensive than some flights, with Viva Aerobus offering flights from Mexico City to Tulum for just over 1,000 pesos (about USD 50).
Transporters have formally requested Sedena to reconsider the fee, proposing a more reasonable rate of 20 pesos (about USD 1), similar to that of Cancún. Additionally, tour operators have been alerted to the high ground transportation costs in Tulum, advising them to use Cancún International Airport as an alternative for accessing the Riviera Maya.
The transportation sector’s plight has raised concerns among the Riviera Maya’s tourism industry, with hoteliers particularly worried about the negative impact on the destination. David Ortiz Mena, vice president of the Caribbean Hotel Council, has called on authorities to intervene to mitigate adverse effects on lodging activities. He warns that the high fees imposed by Sedena could deter airlines and tourists alike, jeopardizing the initial success of Tulum’s airport.
So far, neither federal nor state authorities have commented on the issue, leaving the future of Tulum’s ground transportation in uncertainty. As the industry awaits a resolution, the potential transformation of Tulum into a “ghost airport,” similar to Chichén Itzá’s airport, looms as a cautionary tale.