Things That Matter

Indigenous Leaders And Environmental Groups Have Concerns Over President AMLO’s Tourist Train In The Yucatán

Mexico’s Yucatan region is considered it’s tourist heartland. With the resorts and beaches of the Riviera Maya (from Cancun and Isla Holbox to Tulum and Playa del Carmen), the region accounts for an overwhelming amount of tourist spending in the country. So it makes sense that the community and the government would want to capitalize on that economic opportunity by providing better access to even more tourists.

However, the government’s most recent project – a high-speed tourist train through the region – is drawing criticism from Indigenous leaders, environmental organizations, and local governments.

After a controversial referendum, Mexico’s President AMLO vows to forge ahead on the Mayan train project.

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Monday said his controversial Mayan Train project would move ahead after residents in the five states where the train was proposed to run through voted in favour of the proposal.

The government reported overwhelming support in the region, with 99 percent voting in favour in Campeche. The lowest level of support was in Quintana Roo with 85 percent voting in favour. Just 100,000 people of the region’s more than 11 million voted, however.

Sunday’s referendum, which was not a legal requirement, was part of Lopez Obrador’s new style of governing “with the people”. It coincided with a weekend full of open-ended consultations with indigenous groups in the area.

More than 5,000 people, representing more than 1,000 indigenous groups, met government representatives during the consultation assemblies, officials said. 

Adelfo Regino Montes, director of the National Institute of Indigenous Communities (INPI) said that the consultation meetings showed unanimous support for the construction and implementation of the Mayan Train project. But some at the assemblies expressed opposition or concerns about the plan.

Yes, you read that right: just 0.90% of eligible voters participated in the president’s referendum and the voting locations were in regions supportive of the president.

So many are crying foul when it comes to the referendum itself and disputing the president’s claim that the project has overwhelming support.

Flora Maria Estrella lives by the pre-existing stretch of line in Tenabo, Campeche, which is currently only used for freight. Recalling the advantages of the previous passenger line that used to allow her family to sell fruit and vegetables outside of their small town, Estrella said she supports the Mayan Train project. 

So what exactly is the proposed Mayan Tourist Train all about?

The proposed 1,525km (950-mile) train would connect communities and natural reserves in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. It is expected to cost between $6-8bn, but bring more than three million visitors and tourists to the region annually.

The Mayan Train represents just one part of López Obrador’s ambitious agenda to reduce poverty and integrate the rural and indigenous populations that have been left out of development in the NAFTA era.

But the project has drawn sharp criticism from environmental groups that worry about the effects of the train on the region’s vast biodiversity.

Despite the support, many also expressed concerns over the potential effects of the train on road conditions and wildlife. Questions also remain about how communities and residents would be compensated if the route ran through or affects their land or territory.

The Yucatan is a unique Mexican cultural crossroads. Many Maya here continue to farm, live and dress according to indigenous traditions developed millennia before the Spanish colonized the Americas. Travelers also come from across the globe to sunbathe along the modern, highly developed Riviera Maya. Over 16 million foreigners visited the area in 2017; three-quarters of them were American.

Mexico Plans To Reopen Cancun To International Tourists But It’s Not At All Prepared For Visitors

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Mexico Plans To Reopen Cancun To International Tourists But It’s Not At All Prepared For Visitors

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There are millions of people just itching for a vacation right now, and Cancun wants to welcome visitors with open arms. However, there’s a huge problem with their plan. Most of the country is still in a severe phase of the pandemic – with all 32 states reporting daily increases in confirmed Covid-19 cases.

In cities such as Guadalajara and Mexico City, even locals aren’t allowed to venture far from their homes and restrictions on shopping, dining, and exercising are still in full force.

However, the country’s president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO), has resumed his cross-country travels and is trying to portray a ‘new normal’ – the problem is little has changed to prevent further outbreaks.

Cancun is aiming to open its doors to tourists from June 10 – but it makes zero sense given the actual situation on the ground.

Quintana Roo, home to the famed beaches of Cancun and Tulum, will resume activities next week – according to the governor, Carlos Joaquin Gonzalez. The state, which depends heavily on tourism, has lost over 83,000 jobs in the last few months due to the pandemic, and with reopening the state could see an economic rebound. However, that entirely depends on the success and implementation of safety measures.

In a press conference, the governor said that tourists could start arriving in the Caribbean destination as soon as June 8th. He added that tourism is an essential activity and that there is no other of greater importance in Quintana Roo “and we are going to fight for it to be considered that way.”

He stressed during the public address that for the opening to happen by June 10th, protocols and hygiene measures must be followed to protect workers and tourists from Covid-19.

And he has good reason to reopen. According to a new survey by Expedia, ‘Cancun flights’ is one of the top 5 searches on the platform. In the same survey, Playa del Carmen, Cancun and Isla Mujeres (all located in Quintana Roo) were announced as three of the most internationally sought after destinations.

Meanwhile, AMLO has launched a cross-country tour touting the lifting of Coronavirus restrictions.

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President AMLO also held his daily press conference from the state of Quintana Roo to mark the beginning of Mexico’s economic reopening and resume his tours across the country.

But this too makes zero sense. Yes, the government has mandated that states can begin lifting restrictions – if they’re no longer declared ‘red zones.’ However, every state in the country is still in the red, with many seeing peak infection numbers.

It’s just the most recent example of confusing messaging from the president.

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While AMLO is eager to get the country reopened and put Mexicans back to work, Coronavirus cases continue to rise across the country. Mexico has now recorded the seventh-highest number of Covid-19 deaths in the world, according to the Johns Hopkins tracker, with nearly 10,000 virus-related fatalities and almost 100,000 confirmed cases. Testing in the country is low and health officials acknowledge that the numbers are likely much higher.

The federal government unveiled a red-light/green-light system to implement reopening procedures state by state. But currently every state is still in ‘red-light’ phase – meaning stay-at-home orders are still in full effect – making AMLO’s messaging extremely confusing.

Time and time again, the president has downplayed the virus outbreak and has criticized stay-at-home orders for harming the economy.

Keep in mind, however, that non-essential travel between the U.S. and Mexico is still largely banned.

Since March, all non-essential travel has been banned between the U.S. and Mexico. However, that ban is currently set to expire on June 22. It’s possible both sides could extend the travel ban, but given AMLO’s rhetoric it isn’t likely he’ll keep the country closed to tourists for much longer.

However, it’s important to point that out even if you technically can travel – right now you really shouldn’t. In much of Mexico, confirmed Covid-19 cases are on the rise with many cities across the country just now entering it’s worst phase.

Coronavirus Has Flipped Our World Upside Down And Here’s How It Could Change The Future Of Travel Forever

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Coronavirus Has Flipped Our World Upside Down And Here’s How It Could Change The Future Of Travel Forever

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Most of us have been social distancing for weeks if not months now, and between all the extrema anxiety and being away from friends and family, plus winter is over – a getaway sounds like exactly what so many of us need right about now. I mean, it wasn’t long ago that we were hopping on planes at every change we got – but in a shockingly short amount of time, the world completely changed.

In 2019, approximately 83.4 million US citizens traveled overseas, according to the National Travel and Tourism Office. Today, with a global level 4 health advisory in effect, trips to Mexico City are being replaced by virtual tours of the famous Casa Frida museum, and travelers who dream of trekking Machu Picchu are tuning in to live streams from Peru.

The abrupt change from globe-trotting to quarantine has got travelers everywhere wondering what travel will look like in a post-coronavirus pandemic world. But should you really book a summer vacation now? Here’s what the experts are saying:

When Will We Be Able To Travel Again?

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Obviously, the entire world is in a very fluid situation right now, with major changes happening every day – even every hour – so it’s hard to give an exact date. But right now, many countries are still experiencing severe outbreaks of the Coronavirus and have extended mandatory quarantines and stay-at-home orders.

It’s also important to note that you should take your departing location and your destination into consideration. For example, if you live in an area where things are improving but want to travel to an area where they’re not, you should consider pushing your travel dates.

Travel experts are hoping for some late-summer travel but this would be largely domestic, essential travel – like college students returning to campuses and people who decided to quarantine elsewhere returning home. However, it’s not clear this will even be allowed. The US Department of State’s Global Health Advisory is still at its highest level, as is the CDC’S Travel Advisory, urging against all international travel. Between the possibility of a second wave of coronavirus hitting in the fall and vaccines not being introduced until next year, health officials are in agreement that people should avoid flying for the time being.

But looking to the future, what could flying actually look like? Temperature checks could be the new norm.

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In the US, there is debate as to whether the Transportation Security Administration should start making temperature checks on passengers and employees mandatory. Airlines for America, a trade group that represents American Airlines, United Airlines, Delta Air Lines, and Southwest, spoke out in favor of these checks.

But Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, says an estimated 25% to 50% of people who have contracted the virus are asymptomatic. Those who don’t show symptoms can still pass the illness to others, so the effectiveness of temperature checks remains somewhat unclear.

Blood tests and nasal swaps could also be required.

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Some airlines and airports have already started administering Covid-19 blood tests to passengers. The tests give results within 10 minutes, however, they’re not yet available for widespread use. Places like Hong Kong and Tokyo have started requiring testing for arriving passengers from high-risk countries like Italy and the United States.

Flying could become much more expensive.

While some experts predict lower fares as airlines try to entice flyers, a press release by the International Air Transport Association anticipates fares rising by up to 54% in some places because of social-distancing measures, with fewer seats available to sell.

Staycations could become much more common.

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We’ve all been forced to stop and look around at what’s right in front of us – and, luckily for us all, culture, adventure, nature, and so much more are often not too far. Where we might have been compelled to travel to other shores in search of sunshine or beautiful beaches, the Coronavirus has forced us to reevaluate our travel priorities and explore our own neighborhoods.

Solo or small group travel might be more appealing than big tours or cruise ship travel.

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Given the multiple COVID-19 outbreaks on cruise ships in the early days of the crisis, it’s not hard to imagine why some people might be put off them altogether. Traveler uncertainty coupled with unprecedented government warnings advising against cruise ship travel may make it harder for the industry to bounce back, according to the Economist.

This may be the perfect time to travel with family or a close group of friends in order to limit social interaction.

Traveling with purpose will be even more important.

Credit: Hotel Neptuno

We’ll be all the more selective with who we’re giving our money to. And after communities and economies have been devastes by the pandemic, this makes more sense than ever before.

Conservation has been in jeopardy without revenue from tourists. We’ll want to support hotels which also provide revenue for much-needed cultural and environmental preservation. Ethical travel options could grow in popularity, especially if travelers have the opportunity to support a community that was hard hit by a loss of tourism.

You may have to carry new ID proving your healthy.

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Thailand is already requiring passengers flying in from certain countries to present health certificates that deem them COVID-19-free before they can board flights to the country, and the IATA has suggested something similar, proposing an “immunity passport.” SimpliFlying compares these to the Yellow Fever cards passengers must show ahead of traveling to certain regions.