On March 20, the U.S.-Mexico border closed to nonessential travel. Both countries, as well as Canada, also agreed to turn back anyone trying to illegally cross the borders. According to an FAQ section for Mexico's U.S. embassy, the closing does not apply to air, rail or sea travel but does apply to commuter rail and ferry travel.
Some have criticized Mexico for not responding as quickly to the crisis as other Latin American countries. According to an Associated Press article March 20, Mexico has "so far taken a 'business as usual' attitude. People still crowd street markets picking through piles of fruit and vegetables. Cars and trucks continue to fill the streets and commuters throng subway trains, though the volume of traffic is noticeably lower."
Mexico's first case of coronavirus was confirmed on Feb. 27, and its first death was March 18. As of March 21, Mexican health authorities had confirmed 251 coronavirus cases, which was up 48 more since the previous day.
On March 23, Mexico's four-week "healthy distancing" policy took effect. Tourist destinations like Puerto Vallarta have posted photos of completely desolate streets, and the international airport at the end of last week was packed with tourists making the mad dash home.
While travel to Mexico is restricted, people can technically still fly there. The question remains: Should they?
"I have [clients] traveling in the beginning of April and I cannot believe it," said Hope Smith, a luxury travel advisor and owner of Born to Travel. "None of them has canceled yet. I don't want to tell them what to do. I send them emails every day and ask them if they see what's going on. They tell me they are still thinking of going."
Mexico's economy, like the rest of the world's, has been hit hard. As of March 23, $1 U.S. was equal to 24 Mexican pesos, which is the highest it has been in years. Mexico's economy relies heavily on tourism, especially from the U.S. Tourism directly accounts for 8.5% of the GDP, 5.8% of full-time employment, and 77.2% of service exports, according to a 2017 report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
Hotels are remaining open, but are making adjustments and relaxing cancellation policies. For example, as of March 23 Palace Resorts announced that the Grand at Moon Palace Cancun and Le Blanc Spa Resort Cancun will remain open.
At these properties, guests currently staying at Isla Mujeres Palace or Sun Palace will be upgraded to Le Blanc Spa Resort, and guests staying at other resorts will be upgraded to the Grand at Moon Palace Cancun.
All Palace Resorts properties are aiming to reopen May 1.
Iberostar is allowing bookings but waiving the cancellation fee. Also, for bookings made between March 13 and 31 for stays until June 30, reservations are able to be canceled up to 24 hours before arrival, free of charge.
Apple Leisure Group has added self-service features that enable advisors to process reservation changes without speaking with a call center representative. The company has also updated its change and cancellation policies to provide more flexibility, while offering agents enhanced rewards opportunities and discounts to help minimize the impact of Covid-19 on future bookings. Tutorials and video walk-throughs are available for the new self-service features. Agents who booked packages on or before March 8 will have brand change fees waived for travel now through the end of April.
Journey Mexico, a luxury DMC based out of Puerto Vallarta, is temporarily waiving nonrefundable deposits on new bookings where possible. They are also allowing travelers to change travel dates with zero/minimal fees and penalties. For travelers wanting to cancel, they are offering a 100% credit for rebooking with extended (or indefinite) time frames in which to use the credit.
"We are facing unprecedented challenges on personal, family and professional levels," said Zach Rabinor, founder of Journey Mexico. "Together we will get through this and continue our Journey; in the meantime, be safe, strong and compassionate.
"I book through wholesalers," said Smith. "I book with [companies like] Gogo because they have insurance to cancel for any reason. A lot of people don't buy insurance because it's more money, but I've been telling people to buy it because even if you have a bad hair day, you get your money back. I think people feel comfortable waiting until the last minute to cancel because of these relaxed policies. My clients are leaving April 9, and as of now the flights are still going."
She adds, "Everyone is learning that we have to shut down," said Smith. "We have to do it. We have to learn from what happened in Italy. We keep prolonging it. We don't know when this is going to be over. We have to shut it off."