Mexican Caribbean’s tourism industry recovering despite Covid-19 challenges
By Lourdes Cruz
Cancun, Mexico, Jan 20 (efe-epa).- The Mexican Caribbean’s tourism industry is bouncing back from a difficult 2020 by attracting a steady flow of visitors from the United States and implementing rapid-result coronavirus testing and other necessary health measures, although that region has come under criticism for alleged lax enforcement of Covid-19 protocols in some areas.
With abundant tourist arrivals during the busy Christmas season, packed beaches and open-air parties became a regular sight in the iconic destination of Cancun, located in the southeastern state of Quintana Roo.
And now, even during the post-holiday belt-tightening period, substantial numbers of domestic and foreign tourists can still be seen at that city’s sun-and-sand resorts.
One American visitor, Ray Butler, has been vacationing in Cancun for several weeks, having arrived there from Utah to escape that state’s cold winter temperatures.
“I came here for the heat, the sun and the wonderful Mexican people,” he told Efe on Wednesday after helping a group of workers remove cigarette butts and plastic trash from the sand.
In recent days, palapa structures (grass or tiki huts) have been installed and clean-up work carried out at Playa Delfines – Cancun’s busiest public beach – in a bid to further boost tourism.
Thanks in large part to coronavirus restrictions that were less stringent than in other parts of the world, Mexico became the world’s third-most visited country with 25.1 million international tourist arrivals in 2020 (though still down from 41 million in 2019), according to World Tourism Organization estimates. Normally, it ranks in the latter half of the top 10.
In its best-case scenario for 2021, Mexico projects that 33.1 million foreign tourists will arrive and spend an estimated $16 billion.
One key step taken by Mexico has been to offer rapid-result coronavirus tests to international tourists returning to their countries of origin.
The US, the No. 1 source country for tourists to Mexico, has announced that a negative coronavirus test will be required for all travelers entering the country as of Jan. 26. Other nations also are demanding that people show proof they are virus-free.
Most of the tests – up to 15,000 per day – will be carried out in Cancun, Isla Mujeres and two localities in the nearby Riviera Maya hotel and tourism district (Playa del Carmen and Cozumel), with the hotels bearing the cost.
Besides the rapid-result tests, personnel ranging from housekeeping staff to massage therapists are working under strict protocols aimed at preventing the spread of the different variants of the novel coronavirus.
“We’ve established a program that encompasses all of the protocols, following global health standards,” the manager of the Krystal Cancun Hotel, Jose Luis Medina, told Efe.
There is currently no cause for alarm in Quintana Roo, although Mexico as a whole has been one of the countries hardest-hit by the pandemic, with nearly 1.7 million confirmed cases and more than 142,800 deaths attributed to Covid-19.
While Mexico’s tourism industry has fared somewhat better than its counterparts elsewhere, the pandemic still caused heavy economic losses, layoffs and total or partial closures of businesses.
In the Riviera Maya, for example, preliminary estimates indicate hotel occupancy fell by nearly 50 percent – from 6.5 million guests in 2019 to 3.3 million – in 2020.
Projections are better for 2021, with Medina telling Efe that one positive sign is a reduction in the cancellation of flights and reservations.
According to the president of the Riviera Maya-based Tulum Hotel Association, David Ortiz Mena, policies aimed at promoting domestic tourism also have yielded encouraging results.
And the constant arrival of flights to Cancun from the US is a sign of confidence in that destination, even though viral videos of several clandestine year-end parties in Tulum sparked criticism.