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Tourism Taking a Hit in Mexico

By Carlos Alcala, The Sacramento Bee, Calif.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

April. 29, 2009 - Mexico's flu outbreak is delivering a heavy one-two punch to our southern neighbor.

First, swine flu infected more than 1,300 people and killed dozens, leaving the country reeling in pain and fear.

The second punch is striking at the economy: Its $13-billion-a-year tourism industry is faltering as other nations discourage travel there. In Mexico, only oil and remittances bring in more money.

Most of the tourism dollars come from the United States, but the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has urged Americans to put off all but essential travel over the border because of the outbreak of what has been called swine flu.

"It's going to have a devastating effect on Mexico," said Adela de la Torre, a UC Davis economist and chairwoman of the Chicana/o Studies Department.

Carnival Cruise Lines has canceled all calls at Mexican ports through May 4, and Royal Caribbean Cruises has suspended port calls indefinitely until more is known about the outbreak.

Italy, Germany, Romania, and Great Britain also advise against travel to Mexico. Cuba has cut all flights there.

Tourism already has suffered because of violence -- drug wars and political unrest -- de la Torre said. It took a long time for tourism to rebound from the 2006 Oaxaca unrest, she said.

With the flu affecting the whole country, "it could have a lag -- I wouldn't be surprised -- of two years," she said.

Sacramento International Airport's 11 weekly direct flights have not been canceled, said Cheryl Marcell, airport spokeswoman. However, individual passengers may have canceled and those statistics are not yet available, she said.

Airlines are waiving penalties for changes, said Jerry Miyamoto, of Miyamoto Travel in Sacramento. Two local agencies catering to Spanish speakers declined to discuss the crisis.

The U.S. government had recently advised students not to travel to Mexico for spring break because of drug-related violence.

"Now with this, the tourism industry in Mexico is going to be hurt," Miyamoto said.

The travel warning is not just a matter of protecting individuals from infection.

"CDC is concerned that continued travel by U.S. travelers to Mexico presents a serious risk for further outbreaks of swine flu in the United States," the agency said in issuing its warning.

Though the number of cases is a tiny percentage of Mexico's more than 100 million people, it's a large number for a new and unfamiliar flu strain, said Marsha Koopman, Epidemiology/Infection Control nurse for UC Davis Health System.

"They (CDC officials) are walking a fine line," Koopman said. "This is a new virus. You don't know how it's going to behave."

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Call The Bee's Carlos Alcala, (916) 321-1987.

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To see more of The Sacramento Bee, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.sacbee.com/.

Copyright (c) 2009, The Sacramento Bee, Calif.

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