The Emerging Lifestyle Migration Industry and Geographies of Transnationalism, Mobility and Displacement in Latin America

Matthew Hayes

This special issue of the Journal of Latin American Geography draws attention to the growth of migration from developed countries in the Global North to locations in Latin America. While not as significant in numerical terms as the migratory flow from South to North, it nonetheless has the potential to dramatically effect socio-spatial relations and landscapes in receiving destinations (cf. Janoschka 2009; Rainer and Malizia 2014; Spalding 2013a). What is often referred to as lifestyle or amenity migration has been studied using different conceptual terminology to mark the variety of different forms of such migration (cf. Haas, Janoschka and Rodríguez 2014; Huete, Mantecón and Estévez 2013; Croucher and Lizarraga in this special issue). Lifestyle and amenity migrants relocate in order to take advantage of landscapes, climate, or lifestyles within the destinations they move to, and that they hope will enable them to live more fulfilling lives. Often, these forms of mobility are conceptualized along a continuum between tourism and migration (Janoschka and Haas 2014b), and they are generally perceived as being ‘privileged’ (Amit 2007; Croucher 2012), or more ‘agentic’ forms of transnational movement (O’Reilly 2012).

Just as transnational tourism has significantly increased in developing countries (the UNWTO estimates that international entries in developing countries has doubled since 2000), so too a growing number of individuals have sought to relocate permanently or semi-permanently to developing countries, many in Central and South America. While most do so in order to improve their quality of life, or in order to consume exoticized or idyllicized landscapes, not all migrate explicitly for leisure purposes. As previous studies have pointed out (cf. Huete, Mantecón and Estévez 2013), many migrants relocating to tourism and amenity hotspots do so in order to work (Stone and Stubbs 2007).

Migration is, of course, not new to geographers and social scientists working on and in Latin America. But whether the focus of analysis is on sending or receiving communities, these studies almost always discuss migration from Latin America to the United States, Canada and other locations in the Global North (cf. Chávez-Arellano 2014; Herrera 2003, 2011; Izcara 2012; Klooster 2013; Nava-Tablada 2013; Otterstrom and Tillman 2013; Radel and Schmook 2008; Yarnall and Price 2010). In recent years, migration scholars, especially from Latin America, have produced important work on South-South migration, or migration between developing countries, at times with the deliberate intention of challenging the analytical dominance of South-North migration flows (cf. Cerruti and Parrado 2015; Stefoni 2013; Torres and Hidalgo 2009). Until recently, relatively little attention had been drawn to lifestyle and amenity migration within the Americas, a flow moving mainly from North to South. Yet, as recent studies suggest, migration of North Americans to destinations in Latin America will likely increase (Dixon, Murray and Gelatt 2006; Kiy and McEnany 2010; Rojas, LeBlanc and Sunil 2014), particularly given economic and cultural transformations among the baby boomer generation, now entering retirement. Indeed, while cultural changes are important, it is worth noting that the 2008 financial crisis produced new types of lifestyle mobility, particularly for retirees who have seen savings plummet as a result of the crisis (Hayes 2015). Thus, lifestyle mobilities may also be motivated by economic factors, challenging some of the foundations upon which distinctions are drawn between lifestyle migrants and labour migrants (cf. Matossian, Zebryte and Zunino 2014).

In terms of cultural mutations, perhaps the most important cultural change helping to shape contemporary lifestyle and amenity migration is the growing importance of travel, mobility and cosmopolitan experience as markers of status in an increasingly globalized and interconnected world order (cf. Igarashi and Saito 2014; Kim 2011). The proliferation and consolidation of utilitarian and expressive individualism into new phases of the life cycle and into new activities, such as transnational travel, are important cultural developments as well. Yet, the growing popularity of tourism and residential mobility is not merely the product of cultural transformations that float freely, unaffected by social and economic forces. Tourism is now one of the world’s leading industries with important linkages to large corporations in the hotel, travel, airline, real estate and finance industries. Thus, the World Bank and the Inter-American Development.

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