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Mexico Tourism Uses Huge Discounts to Lure Back Travelers

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Beach viewAfter being battered and beaten down by the swine flu epidemic for almost a month, Mexico is fighting back in an attempt to lure Americans (and other foreign visitors) in and restore the country’s image as a safe place to stay and play.

Americans make up 80 percent of the total number of visitors to Mexico, but after the H1N1 outbreak began in late April, they stayed away in droves, fearful of contracting the virus.

Hotel occupancy dropped as low as 25 percent in some places, flights to the country were nearly empty, and the tourism industry is expected to bring in $4 billion less this year than it did last year.

But now several groups are fighting back against the perception that Mexico is dangerous in order to get travelers to return, and to reverse the fortunes of the nation’s third-largest industry, which handles more than 18 million American visitors every year.

The Centers for Disease control in Atlanta recently reduced its Mexico travel warning to a travel “precaution,” in light of the fact that the flu threat is subsiding. Though there have been more deaths in Mexico than in the United States, there are currently more confirmed cases of flu in the U.S. This means that people are theoretically just as likely to catch the flu at home as they would be in Mexico.

The Mexico tourism board is currently launching a multi-faceted campaign to educate the public and get people to come back. Over the next two weeks a number of travel industry professionals will be invited to tour the country to see how safe it is, and a $90 million advertising campaign is being launched that will feature well-known Mexican celebrities such as Placido Domingo and golfer Lorena Ochoa.

Mayan ruinsFelipe Calderon, Mexico’s president, also said that several international celebrities will be invited to the country, but he did not specify which ones.

Hotels and airlines have responded to the crisis by offering some incredible deals to compensate for the lack of business over the last month. Data from FareCompare.com, an airfare-tracking Web site, show that June fares to Mexico are 35 percent lower than June of last year. Other Web-based travel sites are offering package vacations to Cozumel and Cancun for as much as 50 percent less than before the flu outbreak.

Many hotels are touting room rates that are 25 to 50 percent lower than just a month or two ago, with many throwing in free extras. Some are even offering flu “guarantees,” which provide for free future stays at the hotel if the guest becomes sick during their stay, and payment for doctor visits while in Mexico.

Several cruise lines, including Royal Caribbean, Princess and Carnival, have recently resumed port stops in Mexico after a several-week hiatus during which many ships were diverted to Caribbean or North American destinations. Norwegian is one of the few holdouts, and will not return to Mexico until late September.

All the positive press and discount deals seem to have started boosting the number of bookings, and there was a small surge in visitors over Memorial Day weekend. Mexico tourism officials are heartened by the upswing, but don’t expect the industry to fully recover until the end of 2009.

By Karen Elowitt for PeterGreenberg.com.

Related links: Examiner.com, CNN, Associated Press, Long Beach Press-Telegram, Wall Street Journal

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