Vail, Mexican city open cultural exchange
• San Miguel de Allende is roughly 200 miles north and west of Mexico City.
• Population: 139,000 (as of 2005)
• 65 percent of real estate buyers are from the U.S.
• The city can trace its history to 1482
VAIL — Erwit Reichert thinks his hometown and Vail can learn a lot from each other. The next year will see how much learning can be done.
Vail Mayor Andy Daly on Friday joined Mauricio Trejo, mayor of San Miguel de Allende in Mexico, in signing a one-year sister city agreement. That agreement, which all parties want to extend past that first 12 months, will focus on cultural, culinary and educational exchanges between the two cities.
San Miguel de Allende is much larger than Vail — about 139,000 people. It’s also much older — the place can trace its history to 1482, long before Spanish explorers began looking around. The current town hall dates to the 18th century and is the home of the movement that gained Mexico its independence from Spain.
“It’s an honor to have an office there,” Trejo said.
But Reichert, a member of a delegation visiting Vail this weekend, said Vail has some important information to share.
“I like the way it has been organized,” Reichert said.
That applies especially to the way Vail welcomes so many visitors every year — about 2.8 million — to a place so much smaller geographically. In comparison, San Miguel de Allende welcomed about 1.1 million guests in 2014.
Reichert said the lessons Vail can learn include the way the Mexican city preserves its culture and interacts with its guests and second-home owners.
Those second-home owners, most of whom are from the U.S., have become an important part of civic and cultural life, Reichert said. A number of non-governmental organizations have sprung up in the past couple of decades, many of which are fueled by U.S. and other foreign nationals — known as expatriates, or “ex-pats.”
“The ex-pats have really shown us how to give back,” Reichert said.
The number of foreign nationals visiting and living in San Miguel de Allende gives the city a cosmopolitan flair.
Delegation member Yazmin Obregon said most people in the city speak English due to the number of U.S. and Canadian ex-pats in the area.
That international flair, combined with the city’s history and reputation as a cultural and culinary hub, has brought broad recognition. Readers of Conde Nast Traveler magazine in 2013 voted San Miguel de Allende the Best City in the World to Visit. It’s also rated as one of Mexico’s top culinary destinations.
While the city celebrates its history, it’s also trying to grow its employment base. Trejo said he’s interested in educational exchanges that could send students in hospitality to study how lodges in Vail operate. Students from Vail could learn about arts and other subjects while living in or near a city that, for someone raised in the Vail area, is almost unimaginably historic.
Jim Lamont spent most of his professional life in Vail. During the public-comment portion of Friday’s meeting, the Vail resident and director of the Vail Homeowners Association agreed that both towns have much to learn from each other.
Lamont said he’s been struck by the way the Mexican city incorporates ex-pats into its civic life, something that has built what he called a “much stronger community,”
“There are no barriers,” Lamont said. “The greatness of (San Miguel de Allende) has to be protected, and Vail struggles to protect its community identity.”
He encouraged Vail’s leaders to learn those lessons to enhance the community here.
Vail Town Council member Jenn Bruno said she’s encouraged by the budding relationship between the two towns.
“It’s really exciting for Vail to be recognized by such an important city with such cultural relevance,” Bruno said. “Sharing ideas with them will be beneficial — it’s a great step for Vail.”
Bruno added that both cities share a global audience, and that audience has to be encouraged.
“We both get people to visit first, then stay,” she said.
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, firstname.lastname@example.org or @scottnmiller.