The CDC lifted its recommendation against nonessential travel to Mexico on May 15, citing evidence that Mexico’s flu outbreak was slowing down, increasing numbers of cases in the United States and other countries were unrelated to Mexico travel, and that the risk of infection appears to be lower than first believed. The State Department quickly followed suit. The CDC still recommends following local public health guidelines and taking precautions such as frequent hand-washing. It suggests that people at high risk for complications consider postponing travel.
In fact, U.S. citizens have more chance of exposure to H1N1 flu at home: The World Health Organization, which contended from the start that there is no reason to restrict travel, shows 2,200 more confirmed cases in the United States than in Mexico, though far fewer deaths.
Mexico began opening museums, restaurants and other public venues on May 6 and all schools by May 18. Mexico City, where new cases are dwindling markedly, has lowered its health alert from yellow to green and eased up on precautionary measures imposed at the beginning of the outbreak. Most popular tourist destinations, such as Puerto Vallarta and the Riviera Nayarit, Los Cabos, Mazatl?n and Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo, haven’t registered a single confirmed case of H1N1 flu.
Latest developments are posted on the Mexico Tourist Board’s new Web site, which was created in response to tourists’ fears about drug-related violence but is currently dominated by reports on the flu situation.
Bringing tourists back
President Felipe Calder?n announced a $1.3 billion stimulus plan to revive Mexico’s tourist industry on May 8. The initial outlay went to promotion, but subsequent announcements included financial incentives for hotels, tourism companies, airlines and cruise lines to lower their prices.
This week, Calder?n unveiled a national campaign, “Vive Mexico,” to motivate Mexicans to travel throughout the country. Special packages are displayed at a new, dedicated Web site. It’s in Spanish, but U.S. travelers conversant with Google’s translator might find deals that fit their itineraries.
The efforts seem to be working. Travel packagers report clients are sticking with their original bookings, and new bookings are picking up. Some flights to Canc?n were full again last week, and Mexico City’s hotel occupancy rate has reached 25 to 30 percent after dropping to 5 percent.
Once the alerts were lifted, cruise lines were quick to return to Mexican ports. The first, the Sun Princess, docked in Acapulco May 19. Royal Caribbean resumed calls at Cozumel this week, and Carnival will return to its original routes with stops in Mexico after modified itineraries are completed, most in mid-June.
Show me the deals
The diminishing concern over flu, proliferation of deep discounts and lack of crowds present an unprecedented opportunity for travelers. Discounts are substantial and widespread; you can pretty much pick a place and find savings. But with bookings already picking up, they might not be there for long.
Apple Vacations, one of the biggest Mexico travel vendors, jumped in early. It mounted what it calls its “biggest-ever” sale on Mexico trips, advertising savings of up to 70 percent on all-inclusive vacations for bookings made through June 11, 2009. A seven-night stay, including airfare, can be had for $69.99 per person, per night in Canc?n, the Riviera Maya, Cozumel, Los Cabos or Puerto Vallarta.
Here is a small sampling of other deals coming out of Mexico now:
Some ultra-posh individual properties also have discount deals, including the Tides Zihuatanejo and Tides Riviera Maya (second room free with one paid room or villa, through September); Rosewood Hotels and Resorts at Mayakoba and Las Ventanas (discounted rates, $200 resort credit, room upgrades and full daily breakfast for two, through fall); the Ritz-Carlton Canc?n (“Love & Family” with oceanfront room, half-price second room for kids, dinner on the beach for parents, daily breakfast for two and kids meal plan, until Dec. 20); and Four Seasons Resort Punta Mita (third night free for every two consecutive paid nights, through Sept. 30).
And those who are still a bit nervous about the flu might consider booking through BestDay.com. The Mexican booking site (which I have used with good results) instituted a “Flu-Free Guarantee” early on, and plumped it up after travel alerts were lifted: a free vacation, including airfare, transfers and other perks such as admission to the Coco Bongo disco, for any traveler who contracts H1N1 virus within 14 days of visiting any of 30 participating hotels.