Mexico desperate to reopen 11 million-job tourism industry
MEXICO CITY (AP) - An irony of the coronavirus pandemic is that the idyllic beach vacation in Mexico now really exists in the brochures: the white sandy beaches sparkle and are empty on the Caribbean coast, the water on the Pacific coast is clear and the waters are round around the resort of Los Cabos are full of fish after 10 weeks without boats going out. There are two-for-one deals and very eager staff.
It's all just a flight with the airline - and a taxi ride and reception - away, and that's the problem.
There are several ways to think about it: Could it be safer to travel than to stay at home? How much is mental health worth, and if people are socially distant anyway, why not in a nice, isolated place?
On the other hand, despite the pandemic, flights are often crowded, even hotels in Mexico that bend over backwards to disinfect everything have little capacity to actually test their staff, and while there are likely to be few passengers she probably won't wear masks either.
It was all there to see when the first excited tourists arrived at the Moon Palace Beach Resort near Cancun last week. Mariachis and welcoming staff stood in a safe distance to greet them.
"Customers removed all of their masks as soon as they entered the hotel," said Gibran Chapur, vice president of Palace Resorts. “When you're on vacation, you can't all be covered up and think you have to be secluded. If you wanted that, you would have stayed at home. "
However, the staff at the Moon Palace kept their face masks. With only about 300 tourists on beaches that can accommodate thousands, it seemed like a good place to practice social distancing.
"What could be nicer than a place where nobody is than in New York, where there are 500 people everywhere," said Chapur.
In the state of Quintana Roo, where Cancun is located, tourism is the only industry that exists, and Cancun is the only major Mexican resort that has reopened to date. Mexico's tourism income crashed in April when it was only 6.3% of its value a year ago. Hundreds of thousands of hotel rooms were closed.
Tourism directly or indirectly provides 11 million jobs in Mexico, and many of these workers have simply been sent home to wait and see.
The situation is so desperate that Mexico's tourism secretary proposed that the industry become one of Mexico's “essential activities” so that it can be reopened, as the construction, mining and automotive industries have already begun. The federal health authorities were less enthusiastic, however, and found that tourism implied travel, crowds, and outdoor living.
The delay in reopening elsewhere than in Cancun has created a desperate situation. In the Pacific coastal town of Huatulco, dozens of vendors operating fish and curiosity huts by the sea opposed lockdown measures to reopen their businesses. They said their money was used up and they could no longer stand it.
Other beach resorts are already planning limited reopening next week.
"It was very difficult," said Armida Castro, mayor of the two Baja California resorts in Los Cabos.
"We had a list of the needy, the elderly, and the disabled, to which the government distributed aid packages," she said.
But then beach vendors, waiters, and musicians who lost their jobs were added, and the list rose to 50,000. and the local government increased food packages and all available official vehicles were recruited for distribution.
Castro said she couldn't remember seeing Los Cabos, known for its deserted beaches, deserts, and sport fishing. The normally busy marina in Cabo San Lucas now offers plenty of space.
While Los Cabos is hoping for a gentle reopening in June or July with limited hotel capacity, it's hard not to see this as a lost summer.
"October will be the big test," said Castro, referring to the month when cruise ships traditionally return and sport fishing tournaments host around 350 boats fishing for Marlin or Dorado. The fish definitely bite, Castro said, noting, "It's been nine weeks without sport or commercial fishing, so it should be attractive and interesting for athletes and fishermen."
The attractions in Mexican resorts are better than ever and that's not just because of the smaller crowd.
The Secretary of the Navy, Adm. José Ojeda Durán said that Sargassum - the foul-smelling seaweed that choked Mexico's Caribbean beaches in 2018 and 2019 - has been largely absent this year.
And on the Pacific coast, bioluminescence - the electric glow of the ocean at night due to the tiny plankton - is remembered for the first time on the beaches of Acapulco. Experts say a combination of factors - fewer people in the water, less boat and sunscreen pollution, and less bright light along the coast - could be responsible for the glow of the sea.
"The very low presence or absence of human activity has allowed this phenomenon to occur where it has rarely been seen," said marine biologist David Hernández Becerril of the National Autonomous University of Mexico.
Even so, it will be difficult for Mexico. Some places like Cozumel Island are almost entirely dependent on the cruise industry, which may take longer to recover. And Mexico is not exactly known for what the United States' World Tourism Organization recommends: "Safe, seamless, and contactless travel."
A few things will change: passengers are not allowed to sit in front of the taxi driver, buffets are a thing of the past, and Chapur says Palace Resorts will likely forego physical menus in restaurants. Instead, customers take a picture of the QR code in the restaurant and the menu is displayed on their smartphones. “Menus are probably the dirtiest things in a hotel. Everyone touches them, ”said Chapur.
But perhaps the most convincing argument is the simplest.
"I asked people," Why did you come? "And they said," I couldn't stand being in my house anymore, "Chapur said.
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