COVID-19, Isolation Spell Trouble for Tourism, WorkersBy Jordi Sastre | Thu, 04/16/2020 - 16:30
Quintana Roo is the Mexican state where several of the country's best-known tourist destinations are located, such as Cancun, Tulum, and Riviera Maya. With a population of 1.5 million inhabitants, it welcomes more than 23 million visitors and 8 million cruise passengers annually. It’s also the sun and beach destination that receives the most visitors from Mexico and Latin America. The region’s hotel footprint includes more than 1,000 hotels and 100,000 rooms, which represent around 15 percent of the country's total, with an annual economic impact of over US$15 billion. The tertiary sector, which includes tourism, represents 90 percent of Quintana Roo's GDP.
These figures explain why the threat of COVID-19 in this southeastern state will not only produce a major health problem (269 confirmed cases so far, according to official statistics) but will also generate a huge socio-economic burden. Most workers do not have savings, so the concern about a possible contagion will add to worries about obtaining the necessary capital to support families amid the uncertainty of not knowing when this situation will end.
The measures taken in the state seek to strike a balance between containing the virus and destroying the economy in the short to medium term. Although 95 percent of hotels in the state have closed due to lack of demand and the central government has forced hotels to shut down in Mexico City, the government of Quintana Roo has not officially suspended hotel activities. Restaurants have been permitted to open until mid-April and tourists are still allowed to access private beaches of hotel establishments and temporarily escape from the complete closure of public beaches decreed by the authorities.
Additionally, in line with the strategy of gradual and phased closure that has been applied throughout the country, Quintana Roo’s government has decreed the closure of four out of the five terminals at Cancun International Airport, which is the second-largest national airport in terms of air traffic. Airline companies also have been affected by the freezing of sales at local travel agencies during the months of the alert.
The measures adopted by Quintana Roo and Mexico in the face of the COVID-19 threat differ substantially from those taken by other countries in Latin America, such as Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. While Mexico has been gradually restricting activities with the intention of affecting the economy as little as possible, most of the countries of Central and South America have opted for the almost-total closure of businesses and the implementation of quarantine confinement.
In fact, most countries affected by COVID-19 differ from the line of action taken by Mexico, which has an estimated 50,000 potential positive cases, which is 50 percent less than the city of New York alone. But the fact is that saving families, the strength of private infrastructure and the specific circumstances of each country with regard to the speed of spread of the virus will be the best indicators to determine how and when to intensify containment measures and increase restrictions on activities.
In the case of Mexico, it is still too early to decide if it was a successful measure or an amalgamation of irresponsible actions.