Travel Tips

Travel Detective Investigates the Swine Flu Fuss In Mexico

Locations in this article:  Buffalo, NY Dallas, TX Hong Kong Mexico City, Mexico

Black pigI broadcast my radio show last weekend from the El Dorado Royale Spa Resort in the Riviera Maya in Cancun, Mexico.

I’m happy to report that I am not frothing at the mouth, I’m not glowing in the dark, and I’m not sleeping with a pig.

So all I can tell you is, if you read my columns, and you remember what I said on television about putting proper perspective into this and basic common sense and good personal hygiene, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t go there, too.

In fact, I had planned the trip weeks ago and I kept my plans, and you know what? I’m glad I did.

On the flight down I changed planes in Dallas. The flight to Dallas was full, but my flight from Dallas to Cancun had two people in first class, and 38 in coach – on a 757. You could have gone bowling on that plane.

On May 23rd, Peter’s radio show was from El Dorado Royale resort in the Rivera Maya, Mexico. To listen to the show, click here:

When I landed in Cancun, you know what the customs line was? It was me. And out of the airport in no time, no traffic. There I was on the beach, with beautiful weather, great food, and great prices.

Hotel occupancy in the region is under 20 percent. Right now the El Dorado is averaging about 18 percent. That should tell you something….

No Swine FluLet’s put this epidemic in perspective. Think about the SARS crisis. What was that about? It was a fear of a SARS epidemic, and then it became a crisis because nobody traveled.

What did I do in the middle of it? I went to Hong Kong, stayed at the Mandarin Hotel. Hotel occupancy? Three percent. Staff to guest ratio: 600 to me.

Did I have a good time or what? That’s not the point. The point is: are we going to be intelligent travelers or fearful travelers? It’s perfectly all right; in fact, I insist on an abundance of concern and caution. I also insist on throwing out an abundance of fear and stupidity.

I mean, if you’re not in a situation where your immune system is compromised, if you’re not in a situation where you have a preexisting medical condition, then you wash your hands before and after you go to the bathroom, before and after you eat, and before and after you get on an airplane, and you’re going to be just fine.

The last time I was at the El Dorado – not to maintain a pattern – but the last time I was at the hotel I was watching them rebuild it in the wake of Hurricane Wilma. You know, itís interesting, when the swine flu information first got out, the Mexican government did the right thing. They were transparent, they immediately reported it, they put a plan of action into play.

virus closeupThe problem was that the medical community doesn’t know how to interpret basic terms to the lay community. So the word “pandemic” immediately began to be interpreted by the public at large as “the plague, run!”

Well, you know what? Right after Wilma, the private sector in Mexico got their act together. They didn’t necessarily wait for the government to act, and they did a massive rebuilding effort, planting thousands of trees, bringing in sand to rebuild the beaches, and rebuilding the hotels, and in the process, upgraded the entire area.

I mean, the Riviera Maya, and Cancun especially, used to be the last refuge for the goal cup holders from Mardi Gras or drunken college kids on spring break. Guess what? There are luxury resorts down there now, great service, great food, world-class everything, and last weekend, just me. So go on down. I just thought I’d mention that because the bottom line is, it’s time to be an intelligent, contrarian traveler. That’s right. And there’s nothing wrong with that as long as you do your homework.

Look forward to updates on that story from last week about the plane crash back in February, Continental Connection flight 3407. More and more bad stuff is surfacing about training safety, pilot fatigue and salary.

Check out previous coverage of the crash of Flight 3407:

The biggest issue in my book right now is if you’re going to fly a plane that has your company logo on it, if it’s going to be an American Eagle flight or a Continental Connection flight or United Express flight, or any airline commuter flight that’s got the logo of a major carrier on it, I believe the public at the very least deserves to have the same safety standards that apply to the pilots, the crew and the training on that plane as the main line carrier itself – or take the name off the plane.

Plane landedThey’ve been operating under this umbrella and the semblance of equal safety standards for too long, when in fact they do not exist. I used to joke all the time that when you get on these little commuter planes (they call them “Captain Skippy Planes”) the pilot speaks at seven octaves higher than normal and he wants to point out the many safety features on the plane. I laugh because there are no safety features on those planes. Your knees are already up against your neck.

So the bottom line is, if you’re going to fly a plane that carries the logo and the brand of a reputable legacy carrier, you need to have the same safety standards for your pilots, your crew, your maintenance, or take the name off the plane. Then you’d know what you’re dealing with. The FAA needs to do this, and by the way, the NTSB would be behind me 100 percent.

By the way, when we talk about a buyer’s market, check this out. I know it’s a little bit of a stunt, but I had to mention it. There’s a hotel out in California called “Rancho Bernardo” and I’ve stayed there. It’s a lovely hotel, but you know, in these hard economic times, how do you price a hotel room for what people are willing to pay? Well, the normal rates at this hotel start at $219 a night. But these days, they go down from there, depending on what you can do without.

Hotel signLet me tell you what I mean. Okay, 219 bucks, right? That’s the base price, but we go down from there. If you don’t want breakfast, it’s $199. How about you don’t want the minibar? That would be me. $179. How about you don’t want air conditioning or heat? 159 bucks a night. You don’t want pillows? 139 bucks a night. How about you don’t want sheets, like a “bring your own sheets” deal? $109 a night. Without lights? Now you’re talking, bring the candles. $89 a night. Without linens? $59 a night.

I’m not even done yet. Without toiletries, $39 a night. And here comes the best one of all. Attention all people escaping from a hostel, without a bed: the room is $19 a night. I’m in!

Can you believe that? That’s what the economy has given us. Great stunt pricing. You gotta love it. I’ll tell you, the Rancho Bernardo, normally $219 a night, but if you wanna be in the dark on the floor with no bed, no sheets, no pillows, no nothing, not even a photograph of the minibar, it’s 19 bucks a night.

That is suicidal pricing. But you gotta love it.

By Peter Greenberg for Peter Greenberg Worldwide Radio.

For an in-depth view of the topics on this week’s show, check out Radio Roundup: Riviera Maya, Mexico.

Get destination information in Ask the Locals: Riviera Maya, Mexico.

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