Much of San Miguel de Allende’s economy is tied to the influx of tourists and foreigners who come to live, mostly retirees. In 2002, 250,000 visitors spent about US$8.4 million at the town’s attractions, but those who live here contribute far more to the economy.
Most of this is concentrated in the town of San Miguel proper. It accounts for over 36% of the municipality’s jobs and most of the municipality’s income. Tourism accounts for almost all of the municipality’s income from outside. This began in the mid-20th century as a cheap place to live; however, despite recent economic downturns, it no longer is. This has not lessened San Miguel’s attraction for foreign visitors and retirees as homes and hotels here are still significantly cheaper than in the US or Europe. Despite not having a casino or an airport and being 640 kilometres (400 mi) from the nearest beach, this small city has been ranked by magazines such as Travel and Leisure and Condé Nast Traveler as a preferred place to live and visit.
Hotel occupancy typically reaches 80% on weekends with about 50% occupancy on weekdays, when rates can be about half. Most visitors are vacationers and about 60% are domestic visitors, interested in the town’s history and role in the Mexican War of Independence.
Another attraction for visitors are the two main art/cultural institutions of Instituto Allende and Bellas Artes as well as a number of Spanish-language schools. Most domestic visitors come from Mexico’s large urban centers like Mexico City, Guadalajara, Monterrey and Querétaro. This growth has spurred the development of newer hotels, resort and vacation home developments, especially on the corridor between San Miguel and Atotonilco.
There are 149 hotels, 9 of which are 5-star. The town has just over 9% of all hotel rooms in the state, and this percentage is growing. Another important sector is restaurants. In 2006, the town invested 800,000 pesos to implement an online marketing plan to increase services to potential tourists.