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Tourism - Mexico's latest flu victim

As tourists avoid Mexico following an outbreak of swine flu, the BBC's Stephen Gibbs in Mexico City considers the impact of the disease on Mexico's economy.

Mariachi player, Gabriel Navarro, wears a surgical mask, to help prevent being infected with the swine flu, as he plays his violin on April 28, 2009
Traditional musicians, like this mariachi violinist, have lost tourist audiences

"Nothing is going to happen from the flu", says Pancho, dismissively, "It gets some people, but they get over it!"

The mariachi violinist is expressing an opinion you hear a lot on the streets of Mexico City: that it is time to move on.

With 26 confirmed deaths from swine flu across the entire country, the primary victims of this malicious virus are a tiny minority.

But its secondary, economic casualties are everywhere.

Pancho and his band hang around near the historic centre of the capital. For years they, and generations of their predecessors, have been entertaining tourists with raucous, nationalistic tunes

No one is listening right now. The adjacent, baroque, Zocalo square is almost empty. In one corner a small group of demonstrators is claiming the virus is part of a complex government plot to suppress the poor.

'Huge challenge'

The curfew on this capital's economic activity is about to be lifted, but the foreign visitors, with the money, are nowhere to be seen.

Walk into the crisp, modernist lobby of the Camino Real hotel in the upmarket district of Polanco, and you will be treated as a bit of a novelty. Guests are far outnumbered by staff. The hotel has over 700 rooms. Less than 40 are occupied. The World Health Organization is the only regular customer these days.

Few tourists enjoy a nearly empty beach in the resort city of Cancun, Mexico, Friday, May 1, 2009.
Beaches lie deserted as tourists shun Mexico's attractions

"We are waiting, and hoping that things will get back to normal in a few months", says the hotel's receptionist, Jimena.

In the last 10 days, tourism has collapsed in Mexico. Government figures put the decline in revenue at close to 50%.

The closure of restaurants and other entertainment areas in the capital alone is costing as much as 100 million US dollars a day.

It is the price Mexico is paying for taking a high profile stand against a virus which it did not understand when it first appeared.

President Calderon has stopped short of declaring "mission accomplished" against swine flu in Mexico, but the battle to lure visitors back to this country has begun.

With immediate effect, taxes on visiting cruise ship liners are being reduced. Mexico's tourist board is preparing a worldwide campaign to persuade people that this country is safe to visit.

It will be a huge public relations challenge.

Mention Mexico almost anywhere in the world and what springs to people's minds?

Beaches? Mayan ruins? Tacos?

Or swine flu?



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