Monday, October 31, 2005
Mexico’s tourist mecca, for now gone with the wind
By Carlos Luken
Like a twosome among thousands of couples scheduled
to vacation on the Mexican Caribbean, in the tourist paradise of Cancun, hurricanes Stan and Wilma blew in one after the other
on 120 mile per hour winds that ravaged Mexico’s most successful resort region.
Both storms, with exceptional force even for a hurricane
area, all but decimated Mexico’s Caribbean coast – in the same manner Katrina had done along the Gulf Coast in
the U.S., and in New Orleans. But too, Wilma stubbornly lingered over the region, flooding and destroying businesses, homes
The Vicente Fox administration moved swiftly to assess
damages following the storm, and relief efforts were initiated immediately. Evacuation centers were set up, security measures
taken, and airports were returned to nominal operation in less than a week.
The President also ordered an airlift that flew in
food, medicine and other supplies wherever possible, along with relief personnel, to demolished areas still teeming with tourists
and area residents, some sick and elderly, who had not escaped before Wilma struck. Estimates of stranded tourists ranged
from 20,000 to 35,000 people.
Post Wilma assessments are staggering. With
an estimated population of 794,198 people, only three private hospitals in Cancun are in operation. The public hospital infrastructure
is completely distressed, power lines are down, and public lighting was
destroyed. Yet Cancun is already showing signs of recovery with relief centers receiving food, water and aid material; and power is being restored to hospitals, shelters, water plants, gas stations,
and certain stores. Moreover, some drinking water and sanitation systems are
coming back on line as electricity is restored.
while looting was widespread for a time, military and police forces have restored order. Two supermarkets are again open, under heavy guard. Strict security measures are in place throughout the region, with a
7:00 p.m. curfew in Cancun.
Cancun airport runways are serviceable, and dependable navigation equipment should already have been installed so that commercial
airlines can resume full flight schedules. Some limitations will continue however until uninterrupted electricity can
transportation is a problem as nearly 100 percent of the Cancun area roads were destroyed, along with 60 percent of city streets.
Some cellular communications are restored, and normal telephones have been activated for limited use.
of the Cancun hotel association estimate damage at US$1.5 billion, considering that 80 percent of all 26,000 rooms
were ruined, although most did not suffer structural damages. Mexico’s
Tourism Secretary, Rodolfo Elizondo, expects visitor industry revenue losses to reach US$800 million for this season.
On the islands of Cozumel and Isla Mujeres, all ten
hospitals were damaged. State officials reported that all 100 hotels were affected, some now operating restaurant and administrative
needs thanks to small generators.
Limited airport service to and from Cozumel has resumed,
with one flight daily, here again electricity being a problem. Cozumel’s main pier facilities were demolished, further
hindering arrival of relief materials, although small ferry docks have been repaired to help evacuation efforts. Public transportation
is non-existent, as all roads are destroyed or submerged. There is no electric power as all lines are down, with poles and
towers toppled by the winds. There is no running water. And while repair crews have been flown in, all of these needs take
time to repair.
Helicopters and ferries are delivering food and water,
and supermarkets with operational storehouses are restocking, moving merchandise via military escorted convoys in order to
But tourism was not the only casualty in this disaster.
The fishing industry was totally decimated; a major
part of all agricultural products were destroyed; and most arable land was underwater. These three industries account for
almost 70 percent of the region’s jobs.
As well, the catastrophic effects will spill over
to the neighboring poverty belt states of Chiapas, Tabasco and Oaxaca that were recently devastated by Hurricane Stan, exacerbating
economic problems and unemployment. Conditions that may incite a larger flow of illegal migration to the U.S., and contaminate
the already rarified political atmosphere between the two countries.
In the aftermath of hurricanes Katrina and Rita,
high oil prices could have provided an alleviating breath by increasing income from crude oil sales. But now Mexico is realizing
the folly of not having invested in a refinery infrastructure, instead of limiting its oil industry to the exportation of
crude while importing refined fuels and natural gas.
These growing needs could force Pemex, Mexico’s
state-owned oil monopoly, to end subsidies to Mexican consumers, irrespective of the political costs. And such a step would
have to ignore the already hurtful losses from export industry relocation to China, and its growing competitiveness.
Carlos Luken, a MexiData.info columnist, is
a Mexico-based businessman and consultant. He can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.