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Stranded: Travel Agencies Struggle During The Pandemic

Planning jaunts to beaches, mountain ranges and other outdoor destinations has helped many travel advisors stay in business.

While traveling is a dream for many, the pandemic has turned it into a nightmare for a variety of businesses, including travel agencies.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused significant economic havoc in Mexico, and tourism has been one of the hardest-hit sectors. To deal with that reality, travel agencies implemented health measures that would allow them to make an income still, no matter how small, instead of closing.

Health contingencies related to the pandemic began a year ago this month in Mexico and virtually all other countries, which prompted the implementation of quarantines and prolonged isolation. It also caused many businesses to close and a relative paralysis of the world’s economy.

Over 1.5 million jobs are at risk in Mexico’s tourism sector due to the global pandemic. (Statista)

“The pandemic has hurt our industry,” said Arely Cuéllar García, the owner of the Let’s Go! travel agency in Veracruz, Mexico. “We have stopped offering 70 percent of our usual capacity. The quotas that we have managed to achieve have been in tandem with fellow agencies to avoid canceling scheduled trips due to lack of tourists.”

The health emergency meant the cancellation of many reservations in hotels and tourist sites that, in normal times, would be packed with people.

“One year after the pandemic [was declared by the World Health Organization], the impact on tourism has been drastic,” said Cuéllar García. “In the case of our travel agency, sales went down 100 percent. Several reservations were canceled, and many others were postponed to the end of the year.”

Despite the arrival of vaccination campaigns in certain regions of Mexico, tourism has yet to recover and continues to trend downward in some places. However, agencies believe that will soon start ending.

Arely Cuéllar García is the owner of Let’s Go! a travel agency in Veracruz, Mexico. (Courtesy Arely Cuéllar García)

“We hope that it will change mid-year, and we can lift sales. We have adapted to all new policies and support the proper sanitization of the buses that we use, the measurement of body temperature and giving hand sanitizer to all tourists.”

The agent also said that, until early 2020, Let’s Go! offered tours to colonial cities such as Guanajuato or Puebla. However, out of necessity, they had to widen their range of tours, such as beaches or mountain destinations.

“The dynamic has changed. Open, natural and beach destinations are the ones with the highest demand, due to the lower risk of contagion,” she said. “Moreover, 90 percent of all payments are made online, a significant rise from the pre-pandemic 60 percent.”

Even with the pandemic weighing on her shoulders, Garcia recognized travel agencies’ value and dynamism.

Travel agencies offer incredible experiences throughout Mexico, yet, because of the pandemic, now also offer outdoor venues to tourists. (Courtesy Arely Cuéllar García, Let’s Go! Travel Agency)

“I have observed that other agencies are also struggling through this difficult time. I think that this sector is not for the faint of heart, as it has been one of the most affected ones,” she said. “I would only recommend that agencies ally with each other to avoid unfair competition.”

This Easter, April 4, would normally be a very busy time for these agencies, but they will again see decreased business as the government is still calling for people to remain home.

“I used to go on vacation every Easter,” said Genaro Álvarez. “However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I did not leave my home. This year does not seem to have improved the situation. I know that measures are being reinforced in several places, yet I prefer not to risk it and wait for the situation to improve.”

(Translated and edited by Mario Vázquez; edited by Matthew Hall)

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