My wife and I reside in Mexico. We find it fascinating during the current Covid-19 pandemic, people continue to travel here. Although this article explores what you should know before you travel to Mexico, the implications are appropriate for anyone considering travel abroad during these challenging times.
Tourism and Mexico
In 2019 Mexico hosted an estimated 45 million foreign tourists; the largest by far of any Latin American country (even though Mexico is considered to be a geographical part of North America – the reference to Latin America is common). Mexico is the 8thmost visited country by foreigners from around the world. Tourism contributes over 8.5% of Mexico’s GDP and is a strategically important source of foreign currency. For example, tourism’s contribution as a percentage of GDP for Mexico is greater than other industries like financial services, petroleum and mining. Tourism employs approximately 4.5 million people in Mexico.
However, one must keep in mind that Mexico (along with a myriad of other countries) has both a formal and informal sector in its economy. The formal sector employs people with “officially” recognized jobs. The informal sector employs those like street vendors, laborers, artisans, food vendors, domestic workers etc. (unregistered businesses of households and/or individuals dedicated to the production of goods or services). The informal economy in Mexico contributes over 25% of GDP. Many workers in the informal sector contribute to the tourism industry. Recent studies indicate that approximately 58% of all Mexicans work in the informal sector. There are very few meaningful safeguards for those employed in the informal sector when an economy suffers a downturn (healthcare, savings, unemployment benefits, food, transportation, shelter, etc.). Informal sector workers must continue to attempt to derive a source of income to survive on a day-to-day basis – no matter the risk of infection from a potentially fatal disease.
During 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic has decimated the tourism industry in Mexico. In July 2020, Aeromexico, the country’s legacy airline, filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy in the U.S. Hotel vacancy in Quintana Roo (Cancun) plunged to 98% at one point over the past several months (New reporting suggests that an “orange light” authorization allows 15-30% occupancy in resort hotels located in certain sectors of Quintana Roo). Many bars, restaurants, hotels, beaches and nightclubs remain shuttered by government mandate in many of Mexico’s most popular tourist destinations. The situation is fluid and is based upon government adaptive responses to the reported pandemic dynamics.
Former U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower famously warned of the dangers of the military industrial complex in the U.S. (hereinafter “MIC”). The same is true of the travel and tourism industrial complex (hereinafter “TIC”). Keep in mind that the travel and tourism industry is a business. Their primary objective is to facilitate travel by humans for our enjoyment, along with an economic return for their industry. Their primary concern is NOT your health and/or public health. Well established tourism publications and marketing narratives from the TIC have remained primarily unchanged with the onset of the pandemic. This is also true for destinations like Mexico.
Americans cannot presently enjoy air travel to the EU due to the uncontrolled Covid infection reality in the U.S. Canada has closed its border with the U.S. with the exception of “essential travel.” Mexico’s northern border with the U.S. is currently under an “essential travel” restriction. (According to a July 2020 pronouncement by the U.S. State Department Embassy in Mexico City – “Non-essential travel includes travel that is considered tourism or recreational in nature. These restrictions are in place until at least August 20.”) However, Mexico has not restricted the arrival of airline passengers during the current pandemic nor has it required that they go into mandatory quarantine. The airline industry has abandoned their initial commitment to the vacant middle seat proclamation (exceptions may exist).
Be aware that the travel industry has one primary objective; to inspire you to travel: now. Well established travel and leisure publications (in print and on-line) continue to pump travel, without a balanced approach that takes your personal and our public health into relevant consideration amidst a highly infectious pandemic. Typically, for most tourists, the primary questions regarding travel are: “Where do I want to go and how much will it cost?” Today, the Covid-19 pandemic requires us to individually ask another question: “Is it safe?” Of course, the answer to that question is individual yet, must be informed by an objective assessment of the facts amidst an ever-changing reality.
The pandemic and Mexico’s economy
According to the International Monetary Fund, Mexico’s economy is forecast to contract by over 10 % in 2020. Mexico was already in recession pre-pandemic. Job losses are at historic levels throughout the country. The valuation of the peso to the U.S. dollar has plunged over the last six months (currently in the 22 pesos to one US dollar range). A reported 90% of businesses in Mexico have seen their income decline significantly and/or evaporate. Millions of jobs have been lost. Business failures (particularly smaller enterprises) are widespread. Of course, unemployment has skyrocketed.
Like many countries, corruption and organized crime are realities in Mexico. Mexico’s Financial Intelligence Unit (UIF) has publicly shared their concern that unemployment produced by the pandemic may lead to an increase in recruitment efforts by organized crime. Socio-economic instability is forecast to increase for millions of Mexican citizens. The outlook for the Mexican economy for the next several years is troublesome (as it is in many nations, including the U.S.). A “V” shaped economic recovery is not in the forecast for Mexico. As reported by Reuters in July 2020, the economic downturn from coronavirus may add nine million people to Mexico’s poor. According to CONEVAL, the autonomous public agency that measures poverty, this increase in hardship may “translate to 70 million Mexicans, 56% of the country, not earning enough to cover basic needs.”
At the time of this writing (August 2020) the Covid-19 pandemic continues to ravage Mexico. Of course, the infections in more densely populated areas tend to be highest (Mexico City and the surrounding areas). However, no area in Mexico is immune from the virus. As stated earlier, the Covid infection reality is fluid, as it is everywhere around the globe. It must be noted that numerous articles have reported on the disparity between “Mexico’s official Covid infection data” shared publicly by the Mexican federal government versus the reality. For both infections and deaths, researchers have found that the reality may be seventeen times higher than the figures publicly released by the Mexican government.
For non-Spanish speakers considering a tourist trip to Mexico, I highly recommend you consult some of the English language on-line news platforms that cover the spectrum of current events in Mexico. These include The Mazatlan Post, Mexico News Daily, and The Yucatan Times. The U.S. Department of State updated the Travel Advisory for Mexico on August 6, 2020. Do not travel to Mexico due to Covid-19.
I am not an insurance agent, broker or qualified to offer insurance advice. However, many travel insurance policies do not cover healthcare expenses should you contract Covid-19 while visiting a foreign country. Common Covid-19 healthcare coverage exclusions include:
- You must travel to an area where there’s no advice against travel by the country from which you depart (as stated above, the U.S. government issued a “do not travel advisory” to Mexico on August 6, 2020).
- If you do not declare all your pre-existing medical conditions, your healthcare travel coverage claim will be denied. If you are deemed “vulnerable” to Covid-19 infection, your coverage will be denied. Remember – the definition of “vulnerable” has and may continue to change.
- If you contract Covid-19 while overseas, or are required to quarantine overseas, it is highly unlikely your travel insurance policy will cover your essential, non-healthcare related expenses (food, lodging, etc.).
- Repatriation – If you contract Covid-19 while abroad, it is unlikely your travel insurance policy will cover your expenses to return to your country of origin for treatment. (Likely a private aircraft as commercial airlines would not allow you to board if you disclosed your diagnosis).
- It is probable that there will be no coverage under the typical travel insurance policy if you are required to “shelter in place” or are confined due to declarations by government entities prescribing stay at home orders in the locale you travel to when said order is issued.
Additional diligence is now required for travelers in the age of Covid-19 regarding travel insurance. The days of purchasing travel insurance by simply clicking a button on a travel website after purchasing your lodging or airfare reservation are over. Consider discussing your requirements with a duly licensed travel insurance agent/broker in your locale before you book a trip – particularly if your journey is for tourist of recreation purposes.
A new normal
In summary, for tourist travel in the age of Covid-19, you have homework. Additional due diligence is essential to protect you and yours. This is also true for plans for future travel. Of course, we all hope that an effective vaccine will be available tomorrow. There is no question that “things have changed.” When that change for the better may actually occur is anybody’s guess – including qualified medical and public health experts.
Beware of travel bloggers, expat forums, certain FB Groups and YouTube sites dedicated to Mexico (or any other place on the planet). People with all the answers and/or those with a predominantly “everything’s fine” narrative should elicit a suspicious response in you. Remember that many of these voices have a vested interest in pumping travel and tourism in the age of Covid-19. I see far too much of this nonsense on social media platforms.
Use your capacity to research and reason rather than succumbing to hormonal impulses when it comes to enticements (be they internal or external) to travel abroad today. Humanity will overcome the current challenges of Covid-19. Until then, exercise prudent judgment. Don’t be duped into a dubious travel decision.
The words of former U.S. President Eisenhower declared on January 17, 1961 are as pertinent today regarding the travel and tourism industry as they were when directed toward the U.S. military industrial complex. An excerpt is pertinent for our times:
In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. As we peer into society's future, we – you and I, and our government – must avoid the impulse to live only for today, plundering for our own ease and convenience the precious resources of tomorrow.
Your health and safety – along with that of others – is a precious resource. This consideration in the age of Covid-19 has become an imperative priority when contemplating travel abroad. Please adapt accordingly.