Updated on November 17 at 15:15: Updated to mark the deployment of federal troops.
CANCUN, Mexico – A record number of Americans battling home fever flock south of the border in search of help after the pandemic, strolling the pristine waters of Mexico’s stunning beaches – at affordable prices.
This is very good news for Mexico, where tourism supports over 4.5 million jobs across the country, making it one of the most important industries in the country. But is it safe to travel there and how is this country of 130 million people coping with the COVID-19 pandemic?
Experts say most travel destinations are safe, and in support of this, the government announced this week that it is sending additional troops to the Caribbean coast. With vaccinations and basic safety precautions, beaches are prime candidates for relaxation.
What is the most popular international flight from Dallas-Fort Worth? This is not London or Paris. Try Cancun, with an average of eight flights a day.
Once a famous spring break destination, this beach resort attracts Americans of all ages, especially Texans, all year round. And it’s not just the beaches that draw people to Mexico, but other places they love to travel, from Oaxaca to cosmopolitan Mexico City with its majestic Reform Avenue.
The DFW air passenger market to Mexico grew to 2,319.9 passengers per day in the third quarter of 2021, up from 1,746.3 in the same quarter of 2019, according to analysts at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport.
This trend indicates growing economic and cultural integration between Texas and Mexico and the need for an escape after the pandemic. According to the Consul General of Mexico in Dallas, Francisco “Paco” de la Torre, it seems that distance and time in the distance due to COVID-19 heart flutter.
“No doubt about it. Texans missed Mexico more than they ever thought,” said De la Torre, who in more than five years as consul saw the number of Mexican destinations for Americans traveling from North Texas to Mexico. tripled. “Mexico was the closest place to Texans, not only in terms of geography, which is obvious, but also in terms of family ties, commerce, shopping, tourism, culture, food and sports.”
He added: “On average, a two-hour flight allows any Texan to visit a vibrant international city like Mexico City, or discover the colors of Oaxaca, or the scents of Yucatan, or the beautiful beaches of the Caribbean” and the Pacific Ocean.
Vicky Uzal, chief commercial officer for American Airlines in Mexico, said the airline’s seat occupancy has increased 76% this year compared to 2020. This is a 25% increase compared to the pre-2019 pandemic on the DFW-Cancun route.
In addition to American Airlines, Frontier and Spirit also offer direct, nearly three-hour flights from DFW to Cancun, round-trip, on Thanksgiving, peak season, at prices ranging from $ 550 to $ 650.
The beaches have become so popular that American Airlines has increased its flights to more beach destinations in Mexico during this winter vacation. The number of DFW-Los Cabos flights is increasing from 32 to 35 per week.
“On all routes to Cozumel, Huatulco, Puerto Vallarta and Los Cabos, the frequency of flights to Dallas will increase towards winter,” Uzal said.
Spirit Airlines has increased its monthly direct flights between DFW and Cancun from 29 in March to 47 in October, according to figures provided by Diio Cirium, a flight frequency database program.
Other favorite beaches include Puerto Vallarta, Bahia de Nayarit and Cabo San Lucas, popular tourist destinations along the Pacific coast.
Many beach destinations have almost completely recovered from the economic downturn following the pandemic. The number of jobs has increased again and the hotels are open at full capacity.
According to the Los Cabos Tourism Board, in September 2021, Los Cabos alone had about 118,000 international visitors, making it the most successful September ever, with a 40% increase over 2019.
Rodrigo Esponda, managing director of the Tourism Board, said the pandemic highlighted the need to focus on quality and strengthening COVID-19 protocols. For example, Esponda said nearly 90% of Cabo’s population aged 18 and over – most of them in the service industry – have received at least one vaccination, highlighting the importance of tourism to Mexico’s economy.
Los Cabos is “more than ready to implement the best COVID-19 protocol measures,” Esponda explained.
Tourism provides 9% of Mexico’s GDP, making it one of the most important industries in the country.
This helps explain why Mexico reopened to tourism in mid-summer. The country generally has few pandemic restrictions, although some passengers from countries with a high risk of COVID-19 are usually screened upon arrival. There is also no need to submit a negative PCR result or quarantine upon arrival, although most resorts ask guests to complete health questionnaires.
In the state of Quintana Roo, Americans flocked to white sands and turquoise waters. Many explore Mayan ruins near Tulum, Isla Mujeres, Cozumel, Holbox and other places near Cancun.
This year, Cancun has a 51.5% occupancy rate. In 2020, it was 37.8%.
“From the beginning, Americans have been returning in search of a normal life,” said Marco Antonio Gutierrez, 32, a taxi driver from Cancun. “You just saw that look in their eyes with relief as they looked at it again,” he said, pointing to white sand and clear turquoise water.
As the holidays approach, some hotels are offering special promotions. For example, Mvngata Hotel, part of a boutique chain located in Mayakoba, south of Cancun, offers Black Friday and Cyber Monday specials.
“We urge all tourists not to be afraid to travel while on vacation,” said Felipe Cruz Escalante, CEO of Mvngata. “We must continue to live in the new normalcy, always respecting and protecting the well-being of others.” He said his hotel and others require their employees to adhere to strict COVID-19 protocols.
Precautions for COVID-19
There is currently a Level 3 warning in the US: “Review travel to Mexico due to COVID-19.”
Mexico has administered over 126 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine. At the end of summer, the number of cases increased sharply, although in September and October the number of cases began to decline sharply.
In Mexico, there is a system of traffic light restrictions: red means maximum rates, orange means limiting bandwidth in public places and at work to 30%, yellow means you can resume all work and hold public meetings, and green means there are no restrictions. a place.
Quintana Roo, where Cancun and Playa del Carmen are located, is highlighted in green. Baja California Sur, home to Cabo San Lucas, and Mexico City are also green.
A COVID-19 test is required for Americans returning home from Mexico. The tests are usually arranged by the host hotels. Unvaccinated people must be screened the day before departure. Fully vaccinated US citizens can be tested as early as three days before departure.
“We can’t wait to get away for a couple of days and spend Christmas there,” said Consuelo Ibarra, 33, of Grapevine. “We used to want to travel, but we were afraid of COVID.”
Ibarra flies from DFW to Cancun during the Christmas break with her two children, husband and 6 month old baby. They plan to meet other families there who fly from different cities in Mexico and the United States.
“I think there is risk everywhere, but of course we will try to be careful. Always use our face masks, ”Ibarra said.
Protection from crime
Mexico’s growing appeal as a tourist destination is emerging despite recent high-profile shooting cases involving tourists. In mid-October, two foreign tourists were killed in Tulum in a shootout between drug gangs.
The killings jeopardized Tulum’s reputation as a humble, carefree beach town without Cancun’s crowded troubles.
And two weeks ago, four American tourists were injured at a hotel resort in Cancun, caught in the crossfire of yet another apparent drug-trafficking shootout.
Mexican Defense Minister Luis Cresencio Sandoval, speaking in Cancun on Wednesday with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, said 1,445 members of the National Guard would be sent to Quintana Roo to strengthen the region’s security.
The deployment will include the establishment of a base in Tulum.
“This cannot happen again,” said Lopez Obrador. “We must avoid this. That’s why there is a plan to improve security. “
Experts say that despite recent incidents, Mexico is in many ways a safe travel destination.
“The likelihood of being killed or seriously injured while traveling in Mexico is still very, very low because we have literally millions and millions of Americans who come to Mexico every year,” said David Shirk, chairman of the Department of Political Science and International Relations at the University of San Diego and Director of the Mexico Justice Program, an annual report on crime and violence in Mexico. “And the vast majority, about 99% of them, return home without being subjected to violent crime.”
The US State Department says there is widespread murder, kidnapping, car theft and robbery in Mexico. But some areas are much safer than others. The US says people should exercise “extra caution” when traveling to popular destinations such as Quintana Roo and Baja California Sur, while the US advises against traveling to 16 other states.
The US continues to ask its citizens to enroll in the Smart Traveler Registration Program to receive security messages and help locate citizens in an emergency overseas.
Some tourists say that in addition to safety concerns, these are memories of Mexico. Some, like Raymond Robertson, cry out about Cancun in poetry.
“I dream of the Mexican Caribbean at least twice a week,” said Robertson, professor of economics and public administration at the Bush School at Texas A&M University. “This is where paradise meets beach, where crystal clear water just rises with this powder, white sand. There is no other beach in the world as beautiful as the beaches of Cancun. It’s phenomenal. “
Alfredo Corchado reported from Cancun and Maria Ramos Pacheco from El Paso. Staff writer Kyle Arnold contributed to this report.