Will Mexico recuperate from the tourism crash?

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Statements made by an official with Mexico’s National Migration Institute (INM) this week confirmed the depth of his country’s tourism crisis.

Statements made by an official with Mexico’s National Migration Institute (INM) this week confirmed the depth of his country’s tourism crisis.

According to Ernesto Rodriguez Chavez, director of the federal agency’s migration studies center, the number of foreign visitors to Mexico registered an 18 percent drop between the months of January and August of this year.

Rodriguez blamed the decline on the world economic crisis and the swine flu scare that peaked during the months of April and May, when the number of tourists fell in half compared with the same time frame in 2008.

In 2008 an estimated 22.6 million foreign tourists visited Mexico, according to Amador Campos Aburto, an ex-mayor of Zihuatanejo who served as president of the lower house of the Mexican Congress’ tourism commission during the 2006-09 legislature.

At the peak of this year’s swine flu emergency, resorts popular with foreigners saw hotel occupancy rates plummet to near bottom. Last spring, Cancun experienced occupancy rates of 21.3 percent, while Puerto Vallarta recorded a low number of 29.2 percent. Popular with Mexican national tourists, Acapulco’s hotel occupancy rate nose-dived to 16.7 percent. Scores of cruise ships canceled ports-of-call to Cozumel Island and other destinations.

The INM’s Rodriguez said another significant drop in international tourism could come later this year in the event of a serious flu outbreak.

“If the pandemic behaves at current levels, I’d calculate that it wouldn’t be such an abrupt decrease,” Rodriguez said. “We could face a bigger reduction if this phenomenon acquires bigger dimensions.”

The swine flu crisis resulted in the loss or suspension of 200,000 tourism-related jobs, according to the National Tourism Confederation.

In dollar terms, Mexican Tourism Secretary Rodolfo Elizondo has projected that the tourism drop-off could reduce industry income from more than 13 billion in 2008 to about 10.5 billion for 2009, or approximately the same revenue that was generated in 2004. As an economic activity, tourism accounts for an estimated 2.4 million jobs and 8.2 percent of Mexico’s Gross Domestic Product.

To recover from the crash, some Mexican communities are trying out a variety of enticements. In the small Pacific Coast port of Zihuatanejo, where a dozen restaurants reportedly shuttered their doors for good in recent weeks, some eateries are offering 10-25 percent discounts.

Besieged by an unrelenting wave of narco-violence that’s claimed about 1800 lives this year alone and driven away tourists by the droves, Ciudad Juarez on the Mexico-US border is considering a more drastic solution to bring back the visitors and their dollars.

The city government of Mayor Jose Reyes Ferriz is planning on practically gating-off part of the old Avenida Juarez tourist district and virtually attaching it to neighboring El Paso, Texas. The plan involves using barriers, high-technology and police to erect a security perimeter around a two-block portion of Avenida Juarez below the Paso del Norte (Santa Fe) pedestrian bridge leading from El Paso.

The historic avenue and its surroundings have been the scene of repeated acts of violence during the last two years, including the shooting death of bus driver Alfredo Alberto Martinez Hernandez just yards from the Paso del Norte pedestrian crossing on September 30.

The Reyes administration plan is part of the $20 million Plaza Santa Fe revitalization project of the district immediately near the bridge. It awaits action by the Juarez city council.