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Risky business? Balancing Mexico's pandemic response with tourism

February 22, 2021. Summarized by summa-bot.

Compression ratio: 23.7%. 2 min read.

There is a struggle in Mexico between two powerful forces that won't be going anywhere anytime soon: The very real concern for health and safety during the pandemic and an equally valid concern for economic survival.

The world's seventh most popular tourist destination, Mexico's economy has grown to depend on what amounted in 2019 to about $25 billion in income from 45 million international visitors, according to estimates from the National Tourism Business Council (CNET) and a center for tourism research at Universidad Anáhuac.

New home-country restrictions are creating more travel hurdles for Mexico's biggest groups of international visitors -- Covid-19 testing requirements for travelers returning to the United States and Mexico flight suspensions for Canadians, making the light at the end of the tunnel for tourism recovery seem even dimmer.

"I guess Mexico has been doing what it can do," said birdwatching guide Alex Martínez Rodríguez, but he said he doesn't feel that the populist government is acting in the best interest of the people.

"They did the thing where we were avoiding crowds, keeping people in their houses and doing lockdowns, but that doesn't work because the economy is a little bit different in Mexico," said Martínez Rodríguez, who typically guides at least five tours per week in and around Puerto Vallarta.

As far as national tourism goes, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador had been on a campaign to end long holiday weekends in Mexico, encouraging the celebration of significant events on the actual calendar date.

Martínez Rodríguez, the birdwatching guide, said he has never witnessed such economic devastation in his 20 years in the tourism business.

Among the harshest blows yet to tourism in Mexico came on January 29 when Canada announced that it would suspend all its major airline flights to Mexico and the Caribbean for three months -- during high season -- to step up Covid-19 prevention measures in the face of new variants.

"The government of Mexico calls for the most recent measure announced by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to be withdrawn as soon as possible in order to prevent a deep economic crisis in the North American region," officials said in a joint statement from Mexico's Ministries of Tourism and Foreign Affairs.

The flight suspension by Canadian airlines followed the implementation in late January of a new negative testing requirement for travelers returning to the United States -- a measure that is likely to discourage some American travelers from venturing to Mexico.

Nuria Girones, a former tour guide in Mexico City, says she found herself without work immediately as the pandemic spread.

Girones said that people quickly forget that most of Mexico was until recently under a "red light," according to the alert system Mexico uses to indicate Covid-19 risk, available hospital space and capacity limits for public spaces.

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