Posted by: cgratton | May 4, 2009

Swine Flu Infects Mexican Tourism Industry

Those with the traveling bug may be committing themselves to bed rest these days.  And it’s no surprise, as visiting certain destinations could result in contracting an actual sickness—the dreaded swine flu.

With the world still whirling from anything swine flu-related, and more and more cases breaking out everyday across the globe, the swine flu fever is hotter than ever.  Although some experts are now discounting the initial hysteria, the effects on Mexico’s economy cannot be denied. One of the first industries to take the brunt of this loss?  Tourism.

As reported by the Christian Science Monitor last Monday, the European Union advised all Europeans to avoid traveling to Mexico unless absolutely necessary.  The Associated Press reported that Germany’s largest tour operator, the Hannover-based TUI, suspended all charter flights to Mexico City through today, and Japan’s largest tour agency, JTB Corp., suspended tours to Mexico at least through June 30.  French and Canadian airlines have canceled flights, and in the U.S., Continental, United and US Airways have all cut down on the number of flights to Mexico.

Airport workers monitor passengers from heat-sensitive cameras in Hong Kong, the city at the forefront of disease prevention after the 2003 SARS epidemic

Airport workers monitor passengers from heat-sensitive cameras in Hong Kong, the city at the forefront of disease prevention after the 2003 SARS epidemic

But even if you’re brave enough to don a face-mask, buy a tub of Purell and cross into the most heavily infected areas of Mexico, once there, the options of what to do are severely limited, as businesses and tourist attractions have been forced to close.  Already, a leading business group estimated that Mexico City is losing approximately $57 million per day with all the swine flu-related closures, a 36-percent drop in tourism revenue, the AP reported last Tuesday.

Throat are checked with IDs at the entrances to bars in Mexico City

Throats are checked before IDs at the entrances to bars in Mexico City

“Tourism is one of the first things impacted; it is a fragile industry, because people get scared,” says Hailin Qu, director of the Center for Hospitality and Tourism Research at Oklahoma State University, told the Christian Science Monitor.

Women kneel in prayer in the center of Mexico Citys Zocalo Plaza.  Usually a bustling tourist center, the plaza is left empty after swine flu threats

Women kneel in prayer in the center of Mexico City's Zocalo Plaza. Usually a bustling tourist center, the plaza is left empty after swine flu threats

With Mexican tourism industry already ailing from the “drug war” coverage earlier this year, the compounded effects could spell disaster.  Already, Wachovia has released a “what if” report that compares the swine flu to Asia’s SARS epidemic of 2003 (at its worst, in the spring of 2003, SARS is blamed for the 70 percent plunge in international tourists and the 10 percent dip in China’s GDP).  Ouch.

But let’s not jump to harsh conclusions and further add to the swine flu hype, Wachovia.  Let’s just wait and see how severe this flu really gets before forecasting economic disaster.

Until we get our hands on that picture, though, I guess travel agents will just have to buy a book of crossword puzzles to pass the time.

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