Despite the Covid-19 pandemic, the number of visitors to Oaxaca has been slowly recovering and so have the jobs lost to lockdowns, says state Tourism Minister Juan Carlos Rivera Castellanos.
“We have been going little by little, taking things as they come,” Rivera said. “The most important thing is that we are recovering the jobs lost throughout the tourism industry.”
But the news lately has been brighter: during Day of the Dead celebrations last month there was 30% hotel occupancy even with the state being yellow on the national coronavirus stoplight risk map. It’s a big improvement over September when hotel occupancy in Oaxaca city was only at 10% for the Independence Day holidays, a period when it would normally have been around 60%.
For the winter holiday season, Rivera is optimistically predicting 50% hotel occupancy and about 300 million pesos (US 415.16 million) in economic spillover. That number has been estimated at 86 million pesos for this year’s Day of the Dead holiday; last year the figure was 186 million.
Rivera believes the state’s efforts to gain certification as a healthy tourist destination, which he believes gives people more confidence to visit, are paying off.
In July, the World Travel and Tourism Council added the state to a growing list of tourism destinations it said had demonstrated commitment to the council’s standards of hygiene and sanitation.
But Oaxaca’s tourism industry had already been growing since 2017. In 2019, it surpassed the national average and broke all records for the state, according to Rivera. In the city of Oaxaca, from 2017–2019, average hotel occupancy increased from 30% to 50%. At the end of 2019, the city saw 15 million pesos in economic benefit from more than 5.5 million visitors.
In 2020, up until March, the state was continuing to see high numbers of visitors, he said.
“It has been earning recognition,” said Rivera, “such winner of the award for best city in Mexico and the world, according to the industry magazine Travel + Leisure. Recently we won the Oscar of tourism from the World Travel Awards 2020, as the best destination for an urban getaway.”
It’s hard to tell yet just how much income the state’s tourism industry has lost due to the pandemic. Rivera refers to the losses as “immeasurable.” But he is optimistic that December will continue the current uptick in the state’s visitor numbers and income and says it’s important not to calculate economic losses in 2020 but lives saved.