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Low prices and fewer restrictions make Mexico the third most visited country in the world

Tourists vacation on the beaches of Acapulco, Mexico on December 20.
Tourists vacation on the beaches of Acapulco, Mexico on December 20.David Guzmán / EFE

Tourism has plummeted globally. This is an indisputable fact also in Mexico, where the arrival of foreigners is the third source of income in the country after remittances and oil. The sector suffers in a few days when it should have been making money by the handful and closing boxes with which to survive the rest of the year. Although the beaches are crowded, the luckiest businesses will suffer a 40% drop compared to Christmas last year.

However, the pandemic and its restrictions have opened new ways of traveling that relaunch Mexico as one of the favorite places and will close 2020 among the three most visited countries in the world, after France and Italy, going from seventh to third place in a year. Thousands of foreigners, mainly from the United States and Europe, have found in Mexico a place to spend confinement thanks to good prices and greater freedom of movement. Many of the new tourists combine a model midway between residence and travel driven by the effects of the pandemic.

The profile of those who visit Mexico City has changed. This is confirmed by those who stay or offer services in applications such as Airbnb, who recognize that travelers now demand lower prices, longer stays and a good Internet connection before other benefits, says an owner of the Roma neighborhood of the Mexican capital . The scene is repeated in places on the coast such as Puerto Vallarta in Nayarit or the Puerto Escondido area in Oaxaca, with less agitation than usual, but where thousands of Americans or Englishmen spend seasons in rental houses ranging from four to four. six months.

The increase in foreigners, however, will not leave money in the same proportion. As far as tourist foreign exchange is concerned, Mexico will increase two places, from place 16 to 14, according to the World Barometer of the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). According to official data, ‘new tourists’ spend almost 10% less on average

The Mexican authorities are aware that this brutal increase in preferences is a specific phenomenon and “it is most likely that these new rankings they are only temporary ”, says the Secretary of Tourism, Miguel Torruco, about a sector driven mad by the virus.

The business is being remodeled and there are hardly any clues about the direction it will take. “There is a new model of tourism policy where the preservation of the environment, the historical, cultural and gastronomic identity and above all, the benefit of the local population, will be the most beneficial,” says Torruco. In his opinion, short trips of three to four nights on average, road transfers, stays in small hotels type boutique and visits to non-crowded places will keep the sector active.

However, while foreign tourism recovers and flights return charter, the national tourism is the one that pulls the car for months. While destinations such as Cancun or Riviera Maya have fallen almost 45 percentage points between January and October, going from 75% to 30% occupancy, in places like Acapulco the impact was less and the fall was 27%.

During Christmas, some popular destinations will reach the maximum occupancy allowed, depending on the epidemiological traffic light of each entity, which ranges between 60% and 80%, according to the Federation of Tourist Associations (Fematur). “For the month of December there is a rebound, destinations such as Puerto Vallarta, Los Cabos, Cancun, the Riviera Maya and Acapulco will be at 100% of the allowed capacity. In Mexico, 73% of the hotel capacity was occupied by national travelers in 2019 and 27% foreigners, according to government data. The president of the Confederation of Tourist Associations of Latin America, businessman Armando Bojórquez, trusts this lifeline. “National tourism is what has always saved the sector from crises. There will be better rates and offers and that can encourage you ”, he explains.

But the Christmas mirage does not hide the unease that reigns in States like Quintana Roo, the locomotive of an industry that contributes 8.7% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product. Hoteliers in Cancun and Riviera Maya estimate that there will be a drop in reservations in the coming months after a period of relative optimism with occupancies of 60%. Although the usual between January and March was an occupancy of 80% this year it will be around 25%, according to Cancun hoteliers cited by the specialized publication Reportur.

Mexico consolidated itself in 2019 as one of the 10 most visited countries in the world with more than 45 million international tourists, who left 24,563 million dollars, after years of annual growth close to 9%. In July, the Government presented an aid plan consisting of loans to establishments for about 550 million dollars and a maximum interest rate of 13.5%.

While the new tourism model takes shape, Tony Wheeler, founder of the mythical label Lonely Planet, bet on a closer and less crowded post-covid world. “When we return to travel with the freedom of before, the first thing that will be resumed will be local trips, to places in the surroundings or to our own country (…) And the concept of slow travel? Of course. Hiking or cycling routes can be a big part of our new traveling stories, ”he points out in an article published this week in EL PAÍS. The diagnosis, for the moment, does not apply to the beaches of Acapulco or the tourist megaprojects such as the Mayan Train with which the Mexican Government wants to relaunch a model that looks the other way.

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