MEXICO CITY – From Mexico’s Caribbean coast over to Acapulco on the Pacific and up the western shoreline to the Sea of Cortes, beaches and hotels are empty due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a crisis that is devastating the country’s tourist sector and throwing millions of people out of work.
The desolation is evident in Mexico City’s historic downtown, where hotel occupancy has plummeted 54.6 percent in the past week, according to the Tourism Secretariat (Sectur), although some businesses are remaining open.
“As long as the mail service is open, I have to work to eat because I live day to day. Nobody’s helping me here. That is, I need to earn a living,” said Luis Manrique, who is still operating his postcard-selling business despite the 60 percent dropoff in customers, as reported by the local government.
What’s happening in the capital is similar to the rest of the country, with authorities estimating that Mexico will see a 3 percent contraction in the tourist GDP this year, a loss of some $2.4 billion in a “conservative scenario,” Luis Ariza, the president of the Association of Tourism Secretaries of Mexico (Asetur), told EFE.
In addition to appealing to the solidarity among businessmen in the sector to help their employees, Ariza – who is also tourism secretary for the northern state of Baja California Sur, where the prime tourist destination of Los Cabos is located – said that Asetur is hoping that the federal government will announce additional measures.
“(The businessmen) are being supportive to a certain degree. Here, the issue is seeing how much, for how long, they can hold out and in each state, the governors and cabinet secretaries are also doing the same thing. We’re aware that right now the most important thing is to take care of people’s health,” he said.
The Mexican government this week declared a “health emergency” due to the coronavirus – which has infected at least 1,378 people and killed 37 here so far – a move that includes obligating people to suspend non-essential activities in all sectors.
The effects of the first month of the pandemic are already being felt, said Hector Flores, the head of the Business Strategy Group (Gemes), a tourist sector consulting firm.
Hotel occupancy at the country’s main tourist destinations is averaging about 10 percent, airlines have halted up to 40 percent of their flights, prices for national and international seats has plunged by 50 percent and more than 300 hotel chains have closed their doors, he said.
“There’s a very decisive impact, but this crisis is really just beginning. The worst is still to come. Not only for tourism but from the point of view of the public health crisis,” he said.
The North American tourist industry could lose $570 billion due to the pandemic and throw seven million people out of work, two million of them in Mexico, said Flores, basing his figures on those compiled by the World Travel and Tourism Council.
Thus, the Gemes chief hopes that the Mexican government will offer countercyclical and protective measures in the economic plan to be announced by President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador this Sunday.
Tourist destinations in Quintana Roo, the state where Cancun – Mexico’s main tourist beach – is located, have failed to take in more than $1.595 billion in income due to the cancellation of flights and hotel reservations just in the past two weeks.
According to Gov. Carlos Joaquin Gonzalez, 1.7 million tourists have cancelled their trips to the state, which has the second highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases, 2.96 per 100,000 residents, exceeded only by Mexico City with 3.28 per 100,000.
The few people who have dared to travel to the Riviera Maya along the eastern coast of the Yucatan Peninsula have done so because they think that it’s a better place to ride out the quarantine that will last in Mexico at least until April 30.
Francisco Espinoza, a textile businessman from Guadalajara is one of those people, and he told EFE on a downtown street in the coastal city of Playa del Carmen that “We’re waiting to see a little more activity. It’s completely empty. I think it’s about 10 percent of what it normally is. There are businesses that are open but you see almost no people buying anything and outside the downtown area it’s the same.”
Another dire economic blow has been dealt to the cruise sector, given that Cozumel is one of the main cruise ship destinations for vacationers from all over the world.
“In (my) association, we think that just 20 percent of the sector’s businesses will survive this crisis,” said Ivan Ferrat Mancera, the president of the Nautical Partners of Quintana Roo, a large association of boaters and marine businessmen.