Coronavirus in Mexico: Covid-19 vaccination tourism triples Mexican travel to the United States

A traveler receives the Pfizer covid-19 vaccine at Miami airport on May 10.JOE RAEDLE (AFP)

The bosses of tourist companies have quantified a phenomenon already foreseen as massive. Between March and May 2021, trips by Mexicans to the United States tripled, in total they were 905,487, according to a report by the National Council of Tourism Enterprises (CNET) and the Center for Tourism Research and Competitiveness of Anahuac University (Cicotur). In the previous three months, the number of travelers to the United States was 380,000. For the directors of the report, this boom has a clear cause: covid-19 vaccination tourism.

“Comparing March, April and May with the behavior of the previous months, we see a significant change in trend. The only reason for this difference is vaccination tourism, there have been no other substantial changes with the ‘American environment,” Cicotur director Francisco Madrid told EL PAÍS. Other data support this hypothesis, Madrid explains: “Information provided by airlines and travel agencies, statistics on vaccination coverage of Hispanics in the United States or the fact that the average expenditure of travelers has been reduced because they are shorter trips.

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The spike in U.S. travel came at a time when Mexico’s covid-19 vaccination was slowing: Registration for people over 50 didn’t open until April 28. The government of Andrés Manuel López Obrador hoped to vaccinate nearly 15 million people over 60 and all health workers before the end of March, but the deadlines have been extended until May. During this month, the record number of air tourists of the year was recorded, according to the report Panorama of tourist activity in Mexico: 383 107.

A total of $325 million was spent on the nearly one million trips to the United States that were made during those months. The World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) says vaccine tourism is one of the most profitable in the industry, as it benefits all parties. The all-inclusive package, with plane, hotel, car and vaccine, in which many Mexican travel agencies specialize, fluctuates between 600 and 1,000 dollars. The destinations considered were the southern states: Texas, Arizona and Louisiana, which were the first destinations to open, and California, Nevada or Florida. “These are usually quick trips with this lens. Few stays for tourism,” Giuliana Ibarra, owner of the travel agency GiuTravel, told EL PAÍS.

The increase in travel due to vaccination has given respite to a sector battered by the pandemic. “The economic agents who operate in the industry are very satisfied, in particular the airlines and the agencies, because in a context of very significant contraction, where the losses have been brutal, it has been a respite”, declares the director of Cocitur of the University of Anahuac.

The number of Mexicans who traveled to the United States to be vaccinated could be even higher, since the study from CNET and Cocitur only considers those who have made the trip by plane. In a statement in May, Undersecretary of Health Hugo López-Gatell estimated that it was actually two million people in Mexico who had been vaccinated in the neighboring country, as a large part of the population moves in the border strip.

Impact of the third wave on tourism

As Mexico heads into a third wave, tourism employers are concerned about the impact this rise in cases could have on the sector. The CNET and Cocitur report calculate that in 2020 almost 800,000 jobs related to the tourism sector were lost, of which 200,000 were formal —insured by the Mexican Social Security Institute (IMSS)—. The hit of a new round of infections could end up destabilizing one of the industries that has suffered the most during the pandemic.

Mexico this week returned to the level of daily cases it recorded in February, as the country emerged from the most critical point of the health crisis. Thursday, there were 12,800 cases of coronavirus, a figure which had not been reached for five months, and 233 deaths. Although health authorities are trying to call for calm and maintain that this rebound does not directly affect hospitalizations, the feeling of regression is present. In the metropolitan area of ​​the Valley of Mexico, however, the increase in beds occupied by covid-19 patients rose from 1,600 to 2,500 in one week, that is, it increased by 55% in just seven days.

To counter the increase in cases from week to week, the government of López Obrador is betting on vaccination: just yesterday, more than 630,000 doses were applied. So far, more than 53 million vaccines out of the 70 million doses received have been distributed in the country. Since the start of the pandemic, more than 2.6 million people have been infected with covid-19 and at least 235,740 have died from the disease. With these figures, Mexico remains the fourth country in the world with the most deaths from the coronavirus, behind the United States, Brazil and India, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

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