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While U.S. Tourists Escape From The Pandemic In Mexico, Mexican Travelers Do The Same In The U.S.

MEXICO CITY — Tourism in the U.S. and Mexico has been severely affected by the pandemic. But people from both countries have started to travel across the border — and for the same reason. The pandemic is generating some tourism in both directions across the border. 

Tourism is a significant source of income for many U.S. states, including Arizona — and also for Mexico. Although the pandemic has hit the industry hard, it has also generated a unique segment of travelers on both sides of the border: visitors running away from the coronavirus.

It’s not unusual to find U.S. travelers in the streets of Mexico’s tourist spots, including Mexico City — not even during the pandemic. 

Tizita Tafa came to Mexico from Boston. Like other Americans, Tafa came to Mexico as 2021 started.

"We all work from home remotely, so it didn't really make any sense to stay home, if all we're gonna do is work, eat, go to sleep…,” Tafa said, chuckling.

She said it didn't make any sense to work from home facing a cold winter, the U.S. political unrest and the lockdown, not knowing that Mexico also had its own.

“To be honest, I was not aware of the fact that everything was in lockdown, I thought things were actually better, which to be honest is much better than how the United States is,” said the traveler.

Tafa says Mexico feels safer than the U.S., with a lot of people following social-distancing and mask-wearing guidelines. She rents AirBnb properties and travels following health protocols.

“There’s definitely a whole different thing arriving to Mexico than arriving to Florida!” she said, laughing.

She said she agrees with the Biden administration requiring a coronavirus test to enter the U.S. For her, every country should be careful with its tourism, since travelers, like her, represent economic aid because "some countries actually rely on tourism."

And one of those countries is Mexico, according to Roberto Zapata, tourism vice president of Mexico’s National Chamber of Commerce.

Saved By Snowbirds And Vaccines

Zapata says American tourists have been very important to start 2021.

“Past December was awful, it was pretty lousy, but it turned out to be better by the very end of the month that we start receiving snowbirds, mostly in beach resorts,” said Zapata.

According to the executive, the tourism sector last year reported 39% less income compared with 2019.

“The amount of American tourism we have decreased that amount in about 60%,” he stated.

Zapata said the Americans who are now visiting view Mexico as a safe destination and are settling in for lengthy stays. He says some hotel visitors are requesting tools for work, such as lounge chairs or hi-speed internet, and even facilities for kids to take online classes. 

“The trend it has been going that way, and we have noticed how the Americans they have extended their stay here in Mexico,” said Zapata.

However, Zapata said the tourism industry is far from recuperating, particularly as Europeans, who represent almost 39% of Mexico’s annual visitors, still face strict travel restrictions.

Another important element of Mexico’s hospitality industry is American business travel, which is also paralyzed. But vaccine distribution is boosting Zapata’s expectations for the second quarter of the year.

“That’s something that it will start moving the different segments of market,” said Zapata.

Travel's Where The Safety Is

Mauricio González is head of CWW Mexico, a firm representing destinations such as Arizona, Oregon, Chicago and Kissimmee, Florida. He said U.S. travelers during the pandemic are like spring breakers: both groups come to Mexico because the rules are more relaxed. But he says the trend of tourists fleeing from the pandemic also goes from south to north.

“The way Mexicans are traveling has been modified,” said González.

The executive said more spontaneous trips are being made, mainly as a result of airline deals and travel packages throughout the pandemic. González says Mexicans made about 40% fewer trips to the U.S. last year. But a study from his firm reveals that Mexicans still go to the U.S. because they feel safe. 

“The rules are way much more strict in the States, but also that makes you feel way much more safe than in Mexico,” he said.

González says Mexican visitors are getting used to the new U.S. requirements, and travel will likely ramp up again by Easter. He said Mexico remains the number one tourism market for Arizona, Houston, and Kissimmee.

“Before the last quarter everyone was struggling, but we saw a recovery for the last part of the year,” the CEO said.

González said tourism will survive if the private sector works together, following safety protocols on both sides of the border.

“As far as the traveler feels safe wherever they are going, they are traveling,” said González.

And González says tourists can also contribute with accountability and showing a high respect for health regulations.

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Rodrigo Cervantes is KJZZ’s bureau chief in Mexico City, where he was born and raised. He has served as opinion writer, contributor and commentator for several media outlets and organizations in Mexico and the United States, including CNN, Georgia Public Broadcasting and Univisión. Cervantes previously worked as the business editor and editorial coordinator for El Norte, the leading newspaper in Monterrey and a publication of Grupo Reforma, Mexico’s premier news group. In Mexico City, Cervantes served in Reforma as a reporter, special correspondent, editor and special sections coordinator. Cervantes also held the editor position at MundoHispánico, a division of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Georgia’s oldest and largest Latino newspaper. He also participated as one of the first members of the Diversity Advisory Group for Cox Media. In 2012, Cervantes was appointed as fellow for the Leadership Program of The New York Times/Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard, as well as for the "Líderes Digitales" program from the International Center for Journalists. In 2010, he was awarded with the Poynter-McCormick Leadership Fellowship. Cervantes graduated with honors in communication sciences and journalism from the Instituto Tecnológico de Monterrey (ITESM), Mexico City Campus. Later, he was granted the Fundación Carolina Scholarship from the Spanish government to obtain an MBA degree at San Pablo-CEU School of Business (Madrid). Other awards include: the Power 30 Under 30 Award for Professional and Community Excellence in Atlanta, the Outstanding Alumni Medal from ITESM, and several José Martí Awards for Journalism Excellence from the National Association of Hispanic Publications (NAHP). Cervantes enjoys music, books, travel, friendship, good mezcal and the occasional company of his guitar.