A barrier surrounds La Pila, the historical fountain in Chiapa de Corzo, one of many sites that sustained earthquake damage. A barrier surrounds La Pila, the historical fountain in Chiapa de Corzo, one of many sites that sustained earthquake damage. milenio

Quake-wary travelers give state wide berth

Tourist destinations in Chiapas are suffering as visitor numbers drop

Two months after the September 7 earthquake that devastated parts of southern Mexico, the repercussions of the disaster continue to be felt.

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One of the victims is the tourism industry in the state of Chiapas, where visitor numbers have dropped significantly since the 8.2-magnitude quake.

Fears that another large earthquake could occur as well as the thousands of aftershocks that have been recorded are cited as the main reasons travelers are staying away.

In a state where many municipalities rely on tourism, Chiapanecos who depend on the industry for their livelihood are becoming increasingly concerned.

The magical town of Chiapa de Corzo, just 15 kilometers southeast of state capital Tuxtla Gutiérrez, is one destination that is suffering.

Several of the town’s historical monuments — one of its tourism drawing cards — were damaged including at least five of its 10 heritage-listed churches. All of them remain closed and will require significant restoration work, a process that in most cases is yet to get under way.

“We want to see the commencement of the reconstruction and restoration of our places of worship,” said Limberg Gómez, a local parish priest.

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While his primary concern is being able to return to officiating at mass within a church rather than the improvised spaces he and his parishioners have been forced to turn to, the reopening of the town’s historical temples may also help to draw back tourists.

In fact, Chiapa de Corzo’s biggest annual celebration, held every January in dedication to the town’s patron saints, depends on them. According to local authorities, up to 50,000 visitors flock to the municipality during the 15 days of festivities.

But whether the same numbers of people will still come next year with many of the key worships sites off limits remains to be seen.

Restoration work is specialized, laborious and risky and a total of 120 historical monuments were damaged in the state, placing significant pressure on the National Institute of Anthropology and History. Many of them were in San Cristóbal de las Casas, another of the state’s most popular tourist destinations.

Manuel Pérez, an architect with 17 years’ experience in the restoration of historical monuments, is certain that they won’t be ready by January.

However, it’s not just cultural and historical tourism that has suffered in Chiapa de Corzo.

There has also been a large drop in the number of people who arrive to visit one of the state’s premier natural attractions, the Sumidero Canyon.

More than 110 families depend on the tourists who pay 200 pesos each to take a boat trip down the Grijalva River to appreciate the impressive and imposing canyon. But during September and October, numbers dwindled.

“[The earthquake] affected us a lot, too much. We had never had a season as low as the one we’ve had these past two months. It seriously hit us . . .” said Marco Hernández, a boat owner and local tourism leader.

Chiapa de Corzo

“In these two months, we lost up to three million pesos [US $157,000],” he added.

Tourism has also taken a hit in several other states that were affected by either the September 7 or September 19 earthquakes.

Hotel occupancy rates in Oaxaca plummeted after the first quake, even in destinations that suffered little damage, while tourism officials in Puebla said that visitor numbers had fallen after the second earthquake.

In late September, President Enrique Peña Nieto urged Mexicans to take holidays in destinations affected by the earthquakes, amidst fears that an upward trend in tourist numbers, seen over several years, could begin to fall.

Source: Milenio (sp)

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