As the tropical sun sears away at the limestone and sand of Cancun, the city sits and waits under the pall of non essential travel restrictions imposed by the U.S. Center For Disease Control and inferred by extension in the U.S. State Department statement regarding Mexico, yet another from the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Public Health Agency of Canada and a host of other international nations regarding the current swine flu, Novel A(H1N1) scare. For Cancun and the rest of the Mexican Caribbean the mid day sun has become the sun’s anvil, no longer the natural partner to tourism activities, it’s apex signals yet another day of lost jobs, lost wages, along with hotel and local business closures. The Governor’s Office of Quintana Roo announced today that a total of 25 hotels have now closed in Quintana Roo, Cancun’s home state.
The announcement comes on the heals of the recent swine flu scare driven unemployment reaching now well past 30,000 workers and represents a total shutdown of close to 16% of the available rooms in Cancun where hotel occupancy is now a statistically horrific 20%. Nationwide, the Mexican Tourism Ministry is estimating that upwards of 150,000 jobs have been lost to date across Mexico.
The reports from the Cancun Airport indicate that scores of flights have been canceled and flights arriving, once bursting with tourists are running at 20-30% of available seating despite consolidations of flights.
The long and short of this is that while the large numbers of tourists whom have been frightened off by the swine flu scare are staying home, there’s a large percentage of tourists with plans or interested in making plans for travel to Cancun and the rest of Mexico who can’t complete those travel arrangements due to the international travel warnings issued by their home countries or due to cancellations by major tour operators providing package travel to Mexico’s tourist resorts. The small percentage of remaining tourists, many repeat visitors savvy enough to make their own arrangements, are what currently makes up the historically low occupancy numbers. The problem now occurring is that resorts, even those not consolidating services with sister resorts in the region, are closing as each passing sun comes. The hotels are finding the bottom line in many cases is to close down their operations rather than accept mounting loses due to less than break even margins, reduced occupancy or not.
Of course with the closings comes layoffs to waves of employees as each hotel shuts down, trickling down to the heart of the city itself, in downtown Cancun, where most of the locals who work at the hotels reside with their families. Caught on the sun’s anvil are also the scores of employees of independent services like restaurants, bars, clubs, retailers, and tour providers that rely heavily on tourism and the businesses that provide services to the public at large everyday.
On Cozumel, one of the bell weathers of Mexican tourism and long an attraction before Cancun’s birth some 40 odd years ago, cruise ship cancellations have decimated the tourism based main industry of the island. With 90% of the islands revenue generated by tourism via the cruise trade and the island considered one of the most important cruise ports in the Caribbean, the widespread avoidance, by most reports until mid June, of major cruise ship visits, has crippled the island’s economy. Add a current hotel occupancy rate hovering just above 10% and the natives are indeed in a struggle to survive. Today, the Mayor of Cozumel was reported to have requested a 6 million pesos loan from the State government in order to pay municipal employees on the island and continue services.
Much the same is occurring throughout Quintana Roo and across Mexico to Los Cabos, Acapulco, and other tourist destinations, no tourists, means no income. The local communities each day lurch deeper into the dire straights of economic Armageddon, praying for relief, from which there is only one recourse, time, while sending out postcards from the edge.
Cancun and her sister resorts are pinned between the tropical sun and the anvil of limestone she was built on, set adrift by the international community, waiting for the official all clear to sound on the swine flu scare, each day hoping that the lifeblood of her resort towns, the tourists, return.
Till then, we leave you with a haunting, metaphoric melody from former Dire Straight’s lead guitarist extraordinaire, Mark Knopfler, Postcards From Paraguay.
(Courtesy of Slideman/Youtube)
(Editor’s note: further information on the Cancun situation can be found in the blog below.)