Why you should sell Mexico in the wake of the H1N1 virus
Travel Agent Central, May 2009
Regardless of whether you feel the media circus surrounding the H1N1 flu scare in Mexico was unfair or warranted, there will always be bargain hunters looking to take advantage of a tragedy. And herein lies your greatest opportunity to sell Mexico and bring in business to help save the country from a tourism crisis.
About a month ago, every news service reported that Mexico was dangerous because of H1N1 and advised travelers against going there.
The media has since turned its attention to other stories, but the damage was already done to Mexico—and to you.
In a poll we conducted in the days following the initial reports, 71 percent of the 91 responding agents said the H1N1 virus scare had a "major impact" on Mexico bookings. A handful of major tour operators said cancellations were at a rate not seen since Hurricane Wilma in 2005.
When news of the flu scare in Mexico first broke, MLT Vacations reported to us that its call volume increased by about 40 percent. About 30 percent of MLT Vacations’ customers going to Mexico in the two-week window following the news either canceled or rebooked.
A Funjet Vacations spokesperson told Travel Agent they had received three times as many cancellations or rebookings to Mexico than they would usually receive in the same window.
"The flu scare is an epidemic of fear," says Ben Gritzewsky of Frosch Travel in Houston and one of Signature Travel Network’s most successful Mexico specialists. "As advisors [and] travelers, we must keep abreast of events and do our own research. We should balance the facts in order to make rational decisions. The panic about Mexico has probably not affected the number of flu cases [or the amount of narco-violence, by the way], but has wrought staggering losses to millions of Mexicans working in tourism who are far removed from the problem and whose hospitality is legendary. We need to rally around Mexico right now."
Gritzewsky visited Mexico about a week after news of the scare began to die down and he told us that the country was pretty much its normal, beautiful self.
"The noticeable difference between this and previous trips was the presence of surgical masks worn by local airport personnel," says Gritzewsky. "This was also the first time that my body temperature was checked by a remote laser device, and that I was required to complete a medical questionnaire before leaving. It did occur to me that I might be stranded if the hysteria did not subside. Otherwise, everything was as peaceful, interesting, delicious, safe and Mexican as always. I would not hesitate to go again immediately, or advise anyone else to. I believe it is perfectly okay to send clients now, and I am sure that they will be welcomed warmly and more gratefully than ever."
He adds, "I would encourage other Mexico-focused travel advisors to make and foster informed decisions by reviewing as many news reports as possible, communicating with our vendors and friends south of the border, and weighing the facts against the hype. Now is the time to accept the invitations and make personal visits to show our support and renew our confidence, as well as to keep up with recent enhancements. I can’t imagine persuading a client to go to Mexico if I am not going there myself. And, we can easily arrange the most fabulous vacation experiences at truly amazing prices. This is an opportunity to also educate ourselves and our clients about the infinite cultural treasures, besides the awesome beach resorts, that we are fortunate to have right next door."
Wooing Tourists Back
The Ministry of Tourism is hopeful that once the situation is under control, it will be possible to face the challenges that have arisen and establish a plan of action in favor of the tourism industry based on more precise information. With regard to the spread of the illness on a national level, the Ministry of Health reports that Mexico is seeing a reduction in cases. Also, an update from the World Health Organization (WHO) in early May clarifies that the new confirmed cases in Mexico are actually the results of previously submitted lab samples, rather than new cases. It is also important to stress that WHO has maintained its stance of not restricting international travel or the closing of borders. At the same time, the organization recommends that people who experience flu-like symptoms immediately seek medical advice upon arrival from their international destinations.
Los Cabos and the state of Baja California Sur have taken numerous measures to ensure the health and comfort of visitors, which resulted in no confirmed cases of the virus in the region. Additionally, Los Cabos continues to develop and implement programs to woo tourists back. The Riviera Maya, Riviera Nayarit, Cancun and other Mexico tourist destinations have issued similar statements.
"Yes, I am sending people to Mexico," says Marianne Braly of Now Voyager Travel in Huntington Beach, CA. "In fact, I will be traveling there again in August, just as an example to my staff and clients that I personally feel it is safe. I already found an airfare deal for myself that is really great. I will actively be pushing Mexico as a destination for our clients, for two reasons. First, it will be a bargain, and second, they need our tourist dollars to recuperate from this mess."