Courtesy of Quintana Roo Tourism Board
Mexican states have different timelines on travel restrictions.
The state of Quintana Roo and Los Cabos have started receiving tourists for the first time in two months. But what changes need to happen to really get people to return?
This is a developing story. We will continue to update as the world changes. This article was last updated on June 19, 2020. For the latest information on traveling during the coronavirus outbreak, visit the websites of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization.
The Mexican state of Quintana Roo—home to popular vacation spots like Cancun, Tulum, and Riviera Maya—and Pacific Coast resort city Los Cabos have announced plans to reopen to tourists in June, joining Greece and Iceland as some of the earliest destinations to publicly campaign to bring back travelers this summer.
Cancun and the Riviera Maya welcomed their first tourists on Monday, after more than two months when almost all the hotels were shut.
Several hotels, like the Andaz Mayakoba Resort Riviera Maya, are turning their focus to wellness programs while emphasizing outdoor facilities such as nature trails and outdoor dining that naturally accommodate social distancing.
But the few dozen tourists who showed up at the 41 hotels that have partly reopened are a mere symbolic trickle compared to the 23 million that crowded the coast last year, bringing about $15 billion to the local economy.
It’s a slow start; hotels will only be allowed to reach 30 percent of their capacity to avoid crowding. More capacity will be allowed later with some hotels hoping to reach 50 percent of capacity in July. Before the pandemic, occupancy rates of 85 percent were not uncommon.
Gibran Chapur, vice president of the Palace resort chain, said his company welcomed about 300 tourists on the first day, 70 percent of them from the United States.
Now, if you’re confused, you’re not alone: As part of an agreement enacted on March 21, all nonessential travel between the United States and Mexico has been prohibited. (What, exactly, is nonessential travel? Glad you asked.) The deadline to reopen the U.S.-Mexico border was recently extended through July 21. So how are Americans getting to Cancun?
Technically, air travel has been allowed throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, along with train and sea travel; driving across the border, commuter rail, and ferry travel have been prohibited. Flights have still been arriving in Quintana Roo (albeit on a limited schedule and some nearly empty). Darío Flota Ocampo, director of Quintana Roo Tourism Promotion Council (CPTQ), said in a statement in mid-May that several airlines have announced they’ll resume operations at the biggest and busiest airport for international arrivals, Cancun International Airport.
Upon arrival in Mexico, travelers face health screenings like temperature checks—Cancun’s airport has thermographic cameras that register travelers with fevers, the CPTQ director explained—and the possibility of being asked to return home or quarantine in Mexico if they are symptomatic. (The website for the U.S. embassy and consulates in Mexico is regularly updated with entry and exit information, plus any other travel requirements for when the time comes.)
Local tourism boards appear to be more bullish about the return of U.S. travelers than Mexico’s federal government. Bloomberg reports that “Mexico will focus on local tourism to reactivate the industry and try to attract U.S. and Canadian tourists in the winter season, said Tourism Minister Miguel Torruco.” Each state in Mexico can reopen on its own timeline.
Tourism accounts for about 50 percent of all economic activity in Quintana Roo, which has a total of about 107,000 hotel rooms. To date, the state has had about 2,280 coronavirus cases and 446 deaths. But the worst of the local outbreak appears to be over, and Cancun is one of the parts of the country where reopening has been authorized.
Quintana Roo has one of the more ambitious timelines, though it’s not alone in its desire to bounce back. Los Cabos will reopen June 15 following a five-phase plan that includes implementation of new health and safety standards, including a “Clean Point” quality certification offered by the Mexican government to travel suppliers like airports, transportation services, and restaurants that meet high hygiene standards.
On April 18, the Los Cabos International Airport consolidated the departures and arrivals of its national and international flights into one terminal due to low air traffic activity. If COVID-19 cases remain low, Los Cabos will move to phase two—reopening the international terminal and resuming international visits—in July, with the hopes of reclaiming some of the estimated 1 million tourists it expects to be down in 2020. The tourism board also confirmed in a statement acquired by AFAR that “62 percent of the hotel inventory will resume operations while internationally airlines like Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Southwest, and Delta have already announced the return to the destination.”
In conjunction with the secretary of health, Mexico’s secretary of tourism released protocol for the hospitality industry to clean hotels and help visitors feel safe while COVID-19 remains a threat. Among the recommendations:
In anticipation of reopening, “the Hotel Association of Cancún, Puerto Morelos and Isla Mujeres (AHCP), announced the ‘Come 2 Cancún’ campaign to attract visitors with two-for-one hotel stays,” reported Mexico News Daily. The Quintana Roo Tourism Promotion Council expects convention and wedding guests to return first, though it hopes “international and national tourists will consider the Mexican Caribbean a safe and attractive destination to visit once travel restrictions are lifted.”
The Associated Press contributed reporting to this story.
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