Dawn and Federico Bausone were expecting 165 guests to their dream wedding on Playa del Carmen's Mosquito Beach, but only 85 of them showed up. Their ceremony took place on May 1, less than a week after the U.S. Department of State issued a travel warning urging citizens to refrain from all non-essential travel to Mexico. Many of Dawn and Federico's guests heeded that warning, while others from European countries simply couldn't find a flight.
The Bausones weren't the only ones to have their plans altered by the H1N1 virus - all along the Riviera Maya last week - from Cancún to Tulum -- businesses, workers and travelers were feeling the residual effects of the H1N1, or swine flu, outbreak. According to local news reports, taxis were down as much as 80 percent, hotel occupancy was so low (23 percent) that 25 properties in the region opted to close indefinitely and thousands of workers were left jobless.
Possibly one of the hardest economically hit places in all of Mexico is Cancún's hotel zone with its 24,000 rooms and 380 restaurants to fill - not to mention hundreds of shops and tourism providers that rely on foreign tourist dollars to stay afloat. On Thursday May 7, the centrally located La Isla Shopping center was a veritable ghost town where hawkers for a swimming with dolphins experience offered passerby a 50% discount and salespeople in luxury shops waited for customers.
Arly Rosales was behind the counter at a high-end swimwear boutique where she commented that sales were nowhere near the $500 the store normally sells on a good day. Asked what she would say to potential tourists, her response was more heartfelt than economical. "I would tell them to come back so it's not so boring here," she said.
Across the street at the luxury 371-room Aqua Cancún, the cubreboca-wearing staff remained optimistic, despite having only a handful of guests swimming in their eight swimming pools. Janna Levin, a spokesperson for the hotel, said that it was disheartening to see so much devastation, but she was confident that the people of Cancún, a city often battered by natural disasters, have the experience to make it through this tough period as well.
"People here are very resilient," she said. "This is a place where people know exactly how many cans of tuna to buy when a hurricane is about to hit."
Levin explained that the timing for the outbreak was particularly unfortunate as late spring and early summer is usually high season for conventions and group travel, and the upcoming low season will not be an easy time for recuperation. Despite these setbacks, Levin remains positive.
"One's country learns how to deal with these things," she says. "It can only get better. I have no doubt that things will fall into place again."
Many of the tourists who made their way to the region shared Levin's enthusiasm and were happy they kept their plans. Awe-inspiring sites like the Tulum ruins, normally teeming with sightseers, turned into peaceful sanctuaries where visitors could feel as though they had discovered the ancient Mayan buildings themselves.
The members of the Bausone family made the best out of Playa del Carmen's less-than-crowded streets. They enjoyed tamales wrapped in banana leaves from a beach-side vendor, took a trip to Cozumel, where they learned that the number of boats crossing to the island every day had dwindled from twelve to just one. They found the staff at the Deseo Hotel where they were staying to be extra attentive. "They remember all of our drinks," said family friend, Gail Dimaria, who preferred the cucumber martinis.
Most of all, the group took their unique situation in stride. In addition to albums full of memories they now have a new set of bragging rights.
"We faced the killer flu and survived," Federico said.
For up to date Mexico travel information, visit the State Department website: http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/pa/pa_3028.html.
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