August 20, 2019
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Gang violence, algae and no publicity shrink Mexican Caribbean tourism

By Lourdes Cruz

Cancun, Mexico, Jun 11 (efe-epa).- The hotel sector on the Mexican Caribbean in the southeastern part of the country faces financial losses in the first five months of the year following a 6 percent drop in tourist arrivals due to the sargasso algae plague, gang violence and the lack of publicity.

The president of the Riviera Maya Hotel Association (AHRM), Conrad Bergwerf, told EFE that all this had a "sadly negative impact" during the first five months of 2019 " with "6 percent fewer visitors to the area" compared with the same period in 2018.

By the end of 2018, Quintana Roo had 102,890 hotel reservations. Of those 41,416 were in Cancun and Puerto Morelos, 46,969 on the Riviera Maya and the rest in other destinations like Chetumal and Holbox Island.

According to Bergwerf, the Riviera Maya alone has calculated losses of $12 million between January and May 2019.

In Cancun and Puerto Morelos, estimated losses are between $10 million and $11 million, according sources in the sector.

Tourism in Mexico represents 8.8 percent of GDP and generates 4.1 million direct jobs and 6.5 million indirect sources of employment, with the Mexican Caribbean being one of the main attractions.

For the head of the hotel association, the lack of tourism advertising is of great concern because there are no longer any campaigns to reverse the negative effects of problems like the sargasso algae and gang violence, following the disappearance of the Tourism Promotion Council of Mexico (CPTM).

According to official data, in Quintana Roo at least five criminal gangs fight to take control of drug sales, chiefly in Cancun and Playa del Carmen, with shootouts and the settling of scores that scare tourists off the beaches.

Nonetheless, for Bergwerf the problem has improved over the past few months, which would coincide with the installation of a unified police command over several regions, such as Playa del Carmen since May, which means state police are replacing municipal forces.

But what has undoubtedly hurt tourism most in Quintana Roo over the past few months is the massive invasion of sargasso algae, which means fewer visitors and additional costs for the sector.

"The average expense per hotel to clean up 200 to 300 meters (660 to 980 feet) of beach is around $100,000 a month," he said.

Faced with the magnitude of the problem and the urgency to apply workable strategies, the business sector has been knocking at the door of international organizations.

In order to get funding and expand improvements regionally, in early June a delegation headed by Carlos Gosselin Maurel, president of Puerto Morelos Protocol - an organization of business owners and executives seeking to fight the sargasso plague - presented before the United Nations in New York a report on the problem.

"It was very well received," said Roberto Cintron Gomez, president of the Hotel Association of Cancun and Puerto Morelos.

But while today sargasso is seen as a huge problem for a resort whose main attraction is sun and sand, Gosselin maintains that if the algae could be used as the raw material for some industrial purpose or product, the situation would be turned around immediately.

Alfredo Arellano, head of the Ecology and Environment Secretariat (SEMA) of Quintana Roo, told EFE that just cleaning up the sargasso algae in areas considered priorities - some 50 kilometers (30 miles) or 10 percent of the entire Quintana Roo coastline - would have a monthly cost of 80 million pesos (some $4.2 million).

He said that massive deposits don't happen every day, nor is the entire coastline buried under piles of algae, but he acknowledged that the most immense invasion of sargasso to date was in 2018.

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