TREND: Despite the Covid-19 pandemic, Mexico is poised to become the third most visited country in 2020 only surpassed by Italy and France, according to preliminary estimates by the Mexican government. More international tourists poured into Mexico as the year progressed, resulting in packed beaches and crowds in other popular hotspots. Visitors will test the effectiveness of health protocols at various destinations, and the consequences could define travel in the country for the rest of the year.
•According to data from Mexico’s Ministry of Tourism, nearly 7 million international visitors made their way into Mexico between January and November of last year. These numbers are 10 million less than the number of tourists for the same period of 2019. Back in 2019, Mexico was the seventh most visited country in the world according to the UN World Tourism Organization. Most visitors came from the United States (4.4 million) and Canada (0.9 million); Mexico captures 90.4 percent of North America’s international tourism. Ranked by the number of visitors, the rest of the top ten visiting nationalities are Colombia, Brazil, France, UK, Argentina, Spain, Germany, and Peru.
• Beach towns were the most sought after destination, but other inland sites proved attractive to foreigners. Popular travel website Kayak published its flight search trends for last year. Cancún was the most searched destination for Americans and Canadians. Mexico City also has seen a recent influx of foreigners, despite the capital making up a quarter of the country’s 1.44 million cases of Covid-19.
• Air travel has tried to pick up the pace. From January to November of last year, the airports that received the most extensive amounts of international travelers were (rounded data in millions) Cancún (2.8), Mexico City (1.5), Los Cabos (0.8), Puerto Vallarta (0.7), and Guadalajara (0.5). Before the pandemic, cruise ships arrived in Mexico filled with people trying to escape the cold from northern latitudes. The Mexican government has still not sanctioned these vessels’ arrival for tourism, although February could mark their return to Mexican ports, with a full recovery of activities expected until 2023. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) classified Mexico as one less restrictive places to travel worldwide. Currently, visitors must only fill a questionnaire before entering the country, reporting possible risk factors for Covid-19.
•Local authorities capped the allowed number of guests at hotels and restaurants, yet occupancy rates have soared. During the last week of 2020, hotels in Puerto Vallarta, Los Cabos, and Cancún registered the highest percentages of occupied rooms in the country, between 60 and 64 percent. Other places, like Acapulco (50 percent), San Cristobal de las Casas (31 percent), and San Miguel de Allende (29 percent), were busy as well. Restaurants and other small venues are open with some restrictions; however, due to recent high-demand, authorities might have trouble enforcing capacity rules in these places, especially in marketplaces and other informal businesses. Patrons visit at their own risk and look for “Safe Travel” seals issued by authorities to local companies.
•Airplanes, public buildings, venues, and hotels might have different specific protocols. Still, most focus on not traveling with symptoms such as fevers, maintaining social distance, wearing a mask that covers nose and mouth, washing hands often, and limiting the size of gatherings or parties at tables. In larger areas, curfews might be suddenly imposed. For example, in Acapulco, visitors must leave the beaches and public places at night. In San Miguel de Allende, travelers have been asked to show valid digital proof of their reservations for hotels and restaurants in the form of a QR code provided by businesses. For medical tourism on the Mexico-U.S. border, patients need documentation related to their doctors’ appointments or the medicines they need from local pharmacies.
•Although not directed at tourists, violence is still an issue in many places in Mexico. In December, Puerto Vallarta and Guadalajara made headlines due to rising crime levels and even some victims’ high profile. The U.S. Embassy placed a Level 3 Travel Advisory for Mexico since September of last year, meaning that visitors should reconsider travel. If visiting, avoid trips by car outside the city, and do not wander far from your place of accommodation. Carry your local embassy’s contact information with you.
TAKEAWAY: Tourism might be speeding up in Mexico, but this does not mean you should lower your precautions if visiting. If making reservations to travel soon, consider that authorities might abruptly change travel requirements for foreigners and local businesses. Travel with international insurance, and recognize that if getting sick of Covid-19 in Mexico, it could be complicated to obtain medical attention since hospitals have a higher occupancy rate than hotels, in some cities operating at full capacity. There are many options for travel in the country, but site-specific rules and risks might alter visitors’ experience. Do not ignore health protocols and put yourself and others in danger.
* Spotlight by Sergio Mendoza, Senior Consultant at Riskop, a consulting firm focused on strategic intelligence and risk mitigation for investors and decision-makers in complex sociopolitical environments. It is located in Monterrey, Mexico. Twitter: @RiskopMx