Querencia CEO: Baja still has 'tremendous potential'
LOS CABOS, Mexico – Jorge Carrera was appointed CEO of Querencia, a private golf club and residential community here, in July 2004, just as real estate sales were hitting their peak. Querencia benefited greatly from that, in part because of the quality of its golf course, which was designed by Tom Fazio and is ranked No. 2 on the list of Golfweek’s Best Courses of the Caribbean and Mexico.
More recently Carrera has had to navigate Querencia through recessionary times, which have forced the community to delay development of a second golf course that Gil Hanse has been selected to design. Long term, however, he remains upbeat about prospects for Querencia and the Los Cabos region.
Carrera recently talked with Golfweek about real estate and tourism in Los Cabos.
• • •
Golfweek: What is your assessment of the real estate market here?
Carrera: We had three wonderful years – 2005, ’06 and ’07 were magnificent years. We more than doubled the membership from when we acquired it. We were able to design and build the clubhouse, design and build the infrastructure, utilities, and fiber-optic throughout the whole development for communications, put some product in places like the condominiums and the villas that were very successful. Everything was going beautifully until the big bubble of real estate exploded.
Golfweek: What will be the impact of the G-20 Summit being held in Los Cabos in June?
Carrera: The difference in this one is that because it’s in Mexico, and it’s so close to the United States, and there’s a big concern about crime in Mexico. I think Mexico is going to make a very large effort to show to the world that we are not a failed country as a lot of people have perceived us. The country is functioning the same. That type of crime is happening mostly between the drug cartels. Any little push that we get from an image perspective helps. If a meeting like that can happen in Cabo, it means that many other corporate meetings could happen in Cabo, which we don’t have much right now. This (new convention center) is going to open us up to conventions of thousands of people. It has helped bring federal investment into Cabo. If all the presidents and financial cabinets can meet in a place like Cabo, it shows it’s an OK place to go. I think that President Calderón thought that the best face we could show to the world was here in Cabo.
Golfweek: What is the federal government’s role in tourism here?
Carrera: If you had asked me that question a year ago, I would have had a different answer. In the past, there was a lot of talk but not a lot of action promoting or seeing tourists as a top priority for Mexico. Oil was always the top priority. Finally, this past year, we’ve seen some actions taken by the federal government to take tourists more seriously. My personal opinion is that despite the lack of attention to convert tourists as a top priority, Mexico has done well because we have beautiful beaches, great weather, a very friendly culture, and we tend to be very good hosts. But lately, I’ve seen a much stronger focus by the government on tourism. Why? The current secretary of tourism has come to Cabo three times in the past 12 months. Before that we were visited a maximum of once a year. Recently there was a pact for tourism signed by the different governors of tourist-related states on very specific actions that those states are committing to take. They are going to bring everyone together so we can sell Mexico as a brand. The other big development is the new highway to La Paz. They’re expanding it to four lanes, they have built 50 new bridges over the arroyos, they invested tons of money. Now it will be just an hour and a half drive to La Paz.
Golfweek: Do you see more construction happening here in the near future?
Carrera: I think it’s going to be more toward the East Cape than on the Pacific side. Other than (the new community) Diamante, I’m not aware of any new projects on the Pacific side. Over here (on the East Cape), there are two or three projects working on permitting and environmental studies. The weather is friendlier this way during the wintertime when the Americans come down to get away from the cold weather. The whole peninsula has tremendous potential to grow. We’re probably no more than 5 percent developed along the (entire Baja) coastline. Imagine that if the U.S. economy were strong. There would be no more lots available.
Golfweek: Aside from an improved economy, what else needs to happen to help Cabo grow?
Carrera: We need to work on better highways. The airport expansion is a work in progress. Work on the new terminal has resumed and should be ready for the G-20. That’s why the G-20 is so important – we get a lot of things because of it. We need a very good hospital to make Cabo a stronger retirement community. There’s a really good hospital in Mexico City called the American British Cowdray. There’s talk they will open a small clinic – say, 35 beds – in Cabo. If that happens, it’s fantastic news for Cabo. Our property owners worry if they have a medical emergency, they’re concerned about getting good treatment. . . . I also think we have to find a way to create better housing for the Cabo work force.
Golfweek: How do you feel about business here going forward?
Carrera: Our economy is doing pretty good. We’re definitely fighting a very difficult war. We’re fighting against people who don’t have values. It’s hard to fight that. We can’t fight this ourselves. We really need the U.S. to do something about consumption – education programs, more controls. We see we’re fighting this war here. We don’t see a lot being done where (the drugs are) being consumed. But I’m optimistic. I think Cabo has all the elements to come back strong. I think you’ll see a lot more golf courses, including our second course with Gil.