Mexico relies on Facebook to kick travel slump

Travel to Mexico got a big ol’ kick in the cojones last year. The global recession spanked airlines and hotels around the world, and since the United States was ground zero for the financial crisis that accelerated the recession, Mexico likely lost some action from its biggest trading partner. And then swine flu came along, bringing much of the Mexican tourism and travel industry to a crawl. When I was in Los Cabos last May, I didn’t lack elbow room. Well, an 82 percent drop in Mexican tourism, according to the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, can have that effect.

To kickstart the industry and attract more people to the warm sun south of the border, the Mexican Council for the Promotion of Tourism just completed a combination game and giveaway through Facebook. The Gracias A Ti Vive Mexcio website used Facebook Connect to make 10 people incredibly happy with free trips awarded from December 21, 2009 through the end of the year. The only catch was that you had to live in Mexico and have a Facebook page. Winners were selected by game rankings (more details over at Inside Facebook), and the top scorer got to choose from Cancun, Puerto Vallarta and Huatulco – and bring a guest.

With more than 1,300 fans on the Facebook page, it looks like the promotion was a success. And, why wouldn’t it be? Mexico is one of the fastest growing countries in Latin America for Facebook, with 6.67 million users.

Mexico City offers free health insurance to tourists

After near-hysteria over Mexico’s outbreak of the H1N1 (swine) flu virus crippled the country’s tourism industry and resulted in record low hotel occupancy rates, Mexico City’s tourism is slowly rebounding. To help get tourism back to its pre-“aporkalypse” levels, the Mexico City Tourism Ministry is unveiling a new plan that officials hope will help convince people that it is safe to visit.

Any tourists who stay in one of Mexico City’s hotels will receive free health insurance. Under the plan, tourists are covered for not only treatment of the H1N1 virus, but also for any other disease or accident they suffer from while staying in Mexico City. Prescription drugs, emergency dental care, hospital stays, and ambulance transportation are also covered. There’s even assistance in case of robbery, luggage loss, or the delay or cancellation of a flight.

Mexico City normally welcomes around 7 million (international and domestic) visitors each year. When news of the H1N1 flu broke, tourists began to disappear and hotel occupancy rates plummeted, reaching as low as 5% in April, according to USA Today. Now they are around 59%, but the industry is still feeling the pinch. Officials hope that the offer of free health insurance may help sway those who were considering a trip to Mexico, but were concerned about the risk.

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[via Los Angeles Times]

2000 passengers forced into quarantine on Australian swine flu cruise ship

Bad times for cruise passengers – after a flesh eating bacteria scare earlier this month, it’s an Australian ship that is in trouble this time.

The P&O operated Pacific Dawn was scheduled to cruise around the Great Barrier Reef, but 3 crew members were confirmed to be infected with swine flu.

At the moment, the schedule has been canceled, and the ship is heading towards Brisbane.

Once in port, only Queensland residents will be allowed to disembark, but they will all be forced to undergo a health check.

These 150 passengers will then be transported to their homes, where they will have to stay indoors for at least 7 days.

The remaining 1850 passengers will be forced to stay on board as the ship has been turned into a quarantine area.

The ship will head towards Sydney on Monday and will remain in quarantine until health officials clear every passenger.

The three crew members who were infected have received treatment. Five of the 2000 passengers are in isolation awaiting results of tests.

Update: The passengers have been granted permission to disembark. Medical tests showed no evidence of any further infections. On its previous cruise, a total of 48 passengers were infected. Initial reports show that the confirmed cases of swine flu on this cruise were all picked up on the previous voyage.

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The next invasion of your privacy at the airport? Your temperature!

Fueled by a global panic about the Swine Flu, some airports are installing thermal imaging cameras to spot arriving and departing passengers with elevated temperatures.

This technology is new to our continent, but has been used in Asia for years, mainly because of their experience in dealing with avian flu and SARS.

The thermal imaging cameras are placed in strategic locations, and show inspectors a colored image representing your temperature. Passengers with a fever will most likely be pulled aside and submitted to some extra scrutiny.

Of course, the technology could also mean those passengers running to catch their next flight may set off an alarm if the run has made them all hot and sweaty…

It won’t be long until a trip to the airport involves a full body scan and a thermal imaging session, it really is amazing what a little panic about the flu can do! Still, I’m guessing it is better to be safe than sorry, and if this technology can stop sick people from being seated next to me, I’m all for it.

Biden says “Don’t Fly,” White House says “Sorry”

The White House issued a non-apology today, clearly practicing a technique that it will use often over the next four years. Vice President Joseph Biden is famous for speaking without thinking “saying one thing and meaning another.” Today, he announced that he would not only avoid Mexico but also suggests staying away from confined spaces as the spread of swine flu contines.

This is exactly what an ailing airline needs … not to mention the 200,000 people expected to lose their jobs in the U.S. travel and tourism industry this year. But, don’t worry about it, Joe. We know you meant well.

White House officials are playing it safe, “clarifying” the Vice President’s remarks.

The feds hope that nobody was “unduly alarmed.” The best part, though, is that “What the vice president meant to say was the same thing that many members have said in the last few days … And that is, if you feel sick, are exhibiting flu-like symptoms….that you should take precautions, that you should limit your travel.”

Yeah, that’s the same thing, right?