“It is as if COVID does not exist in Tulum” businessmen point out that parties continue despite a yellow traffic light, they fear that an increase in infections will affect tourism and the economy.
It is the night of January 5. King’s Night. The DJ unleashes the track and immediately the band kicks in. Cell phones and Chandón bottles rise to the sky and a sea of flares accompanies the shouts and whistles that flood the place, a well-known establishment in the Tulum hotel zone with a beach club in the Mexican Caribbean.
It is supposed to be a dinner in a restaurant with limited capacity and closing hours at one at night, which is what the epidemiological traffic light of Quintana Roo allows in its yellow phase. But the images of the event that run through social networks, especially on Instagram, show that the dinner is actually a rave; a party with electronic music that lasts until hours of the morning, where, according to the images, nobody wears a mask or keeps a healthy distance.
That same January 5, also in Tulum, the same thing: in a beach club located at kilometer 10 of the Cancun-Tulum highway, tourists record another daytime party with their cell phones in which there is electronic music and champagne under the palm trees, but no sign of the masks.
And the next day, on January 6, Instagram users uploaded videos of illegal parties in the middle of the jungle to their stories – known as Jungle Parties or Secret Location – that lasted above seven in the morning.
“It is as if Covid does not exist in Tulum,” says Gerardo Ávila, a hotel businessman and restaurant owner who has been working in this municipality in the northern part of Quintana Roo for 15 years.
“You don’t have to be a great investigator or detective to see that the parties are daily,” he adds angrily. You just have to go to Instagram, or take a quick walk through the beach clubs, to see that here everyone is throwing parties as if the pandemic had never existed ”.
However, although digital flyers with invitations to more parties continue to run through WhatsApp groups, the figures from the federal Ministry of Health show what half the world already knows: that the virus does not understand oases or paradises, and that it is relentless wherever it goes.
From the yellow traffic light … to the orange one?
On January 7, just a couple of days after the scenes of raves and parties described above, the governor of Quintana Roo, Carlos Joaquín González, stood in front of the television cameras to issue a warning to the citizens of his state, where there are 2,071 deaths from the virus and 16,265 positive cases.
If the rate of contagion continues in this way – the governor, who wore an N95 mask – raised, tourist destinations of the importance of Tulum, Playa del Carmen, Cozumel, Cancun, or Isla Mujeres, may go from yellow to orange in the next few days .
“The number of infections and deaths from Covid is growing. So the message is very clear: stay at home, especially if you live in the northern area of Quintana Roo ”, stressed the governor, and then explained that while in the southern area hospitalizations fell below 20%, in the area north rose to 24%. There is the risk of going to the orange traffic light; the last step before the fateful red.
Going from one color to another is not a minor thing: hotels and restaurants, fundamental pieces of a tourism sector that covers 87% of Quintana Roo’s economy and that generates more than 450 thousand jobs, would have to reduce their visitor capacity from 60% to 30%. Which, in real terms, would automatically translate into the cancellation of thousands of reservations, and in (more) million-dollar losses that, in turn, could increase in the event of a red light.
This is precisely the change in the color of the traffic light, which is what the employer Gerardo Ávila fears.
“If we live out of tourism, we have to take care of tourism,” he asks in an interview. But the truth is that we are not doing it. And that, tomorrow, when there are not enough beds in the hospitals and everything is overflowing, we will return to the red light, which is the total closure of the economy. And there we are all going to lose ”.
In your case, for example, changing to orange implies, from the outset, canceling multiple reservations you already have for the next few weeks before the Easter season, since the hotel would go from being almost full -60% – to almost empty -30% -.
“Losing that many clients, after all the crisis we have already experienced, would be a big problem for me.”
Also, the businessman adds that, regardless of the colors of the traffic light, the holidays are already causing damage to the image of the tourist destination, as one of the few places on the planet where the parties do not stop despite a global pandemic .
“As a businessman, of course it suits me to have parties and people to come. But I don’t agree on how it’s being done. There is already a lot of news circulating through national and international media saying that in Tulum there is no respect for measures against Covid and that festivals are held here that are ‘super contagious’ events. And that, in the short-medium term, is also going to harm us all, ”he explains.
David Ortiz, president of the Tulum Hotel Association, agrees with Gerardo and goes one step further by pointing out that, if there is no end to the parties in Tulum during a pandemic, the market that the municipality receives from countries as important as America is at serious risk.
Regarding this, the hotelier recalls that on January 12 the US government will begin to require each traveler to enter the country by air a negative coronavirus test before boarding the plane. And that this order also includes Americans who return to the country.
If to this new restriction were added a change to red light in Quintana Roo, puts on the table the president of hoteliers, it would not be unreasonable to think that the North American government could issue an alert so that its citizens refrain from traveling to the Caribbean.
“The parties in Tulum are putting the rest of the Mexican Caribbean at risk. It would be enough for the Americans to give us a ‘warning’ because we are not safe as a tourist destination in Covid terms, and it is over. Game Over, ”Ortiz warns.
“Tulum is no man’s land”
To avoid this possible situation, the Quintana Roo authorities explained that they have carried out various actions.
For example, before the Christmas festivities, Governor Carlos Joaquín issued a statement prohibiting all kinds of mass gatherings, including the traditional posadas.
While the Tulum authorities, on December 15, on instructions from the governor and the Federal Commission for the Protection against Sanitary Risks (Cofepris), they had decided to cancel the Zamna Festival, a mega electronic music event which was scheduled for early this January and which was postponed to April.
Also, the State Ministry of Finance and Planning (Sefiplan), in coordination with the Quintana Roo Tax Administration Service (SATQ), has closed 279 establishments throughout the entity since March -27 in Tulum, – for no comply with sanitary measures or with the epidemiological traffic light guidelines.
However, none of this seems enough to stop the festivities, as evidenced, for example, by the images published by Noticieros Televisa of a part of the famous Fifth Avenue of Playa del Carmen crowded with tourists celebrating Christmas; or as evidenced by the celebration of Art With Me, another festival in Tulum that was held during a pandemic – with the permission of the local City Council – and which left at least one hundred people infected, mostly tourists from the United States.
“Tulum is a no man’s land, where neither the law nor common sense apply”, in an interview David Barbachano, who was Tulum’s secretary of tourism until December 31, when he left office due to differences with the mayor , Victor Mas Tah.
Barbachano points out, for example, that even though the City Council signed an agreement with the Tulum Hotel Association on December 9 to respect a reopening of the local economy in a gradual, orderly and safe manner, avoiding massive acts and the parties with DJs, “none of that was applied, nor was it followed.”
“The lack of courage of the local authorities, coupled with the lack of commitment of many private initiative, has allowed greed and the desire for quick and easy money to triumph over the general welfare of the Tulum community and the destination” , says the former local official.
Given these accusations, Animal Político sought an interview with the Tulum City Council through its social communication department. However, at the time of publishing this report, he had not issued a response.
Entrepreneurs prefer to pay the fine and have parties.
For his part, Rodrigo Díaz Robledo, general director of the Quintana Roo SAT, assures in an interview that he understands the frustration generated by the images of parties, even though the guidelines of the yellow epidemiological traffic light only allow the opening of premises with a restaurant license , and prohibits mass events and the opening of bars and nightclubs.
Precisely, to enforce the traffic light guidelines, the state SAT official explains that since November 1, with the Day of the Dead holiday, they began to carry out brigades to “inhibit festivities and celebrations,” in coordination with the Cofepris , Civil Protection, Public Security, and with personnel from municipal authorities.
“However, it seems that the effort is insufficient”, admits the director of the SAT, who explains: many restaurants and beach clubs are disguising the parties under the guise of lunches or dinners for which they do have a license and the traffic light permit.
“Made the law, made the trap,” Diaz summarizes. “And that’s why there are people who are abusing. That they use that restaurant permit to open (as a disco) until the early hours of the morning ”.
To inhibit these abuses, the SAT has imposed fines of almost 5 million pesos to establishments. But even that doesn’t seem enough.
“Unfortunately, we also observe that many of these entrepreneurs already have the amount of the possible fine included in their budget for not complying with the guidelines. And that’s why they are repeat offenders every week. It’s something that gets out of our hands, ”he points out.
Regarding the criticism of the municipal authorities of Tulum, the official concedes that, in effect, they would be “the first filter” to avoid parties. But, at the same time, he clarifies that many of these parties “are also behind the back of the municipality itself.”
“The Tulum prosecutors go out with us in the brigades,” he emphasizes. And just as we put our closing acts, they also put their stamps and sanctions. But the problem is that it is a very difficult subject to contain. We would have to have a couple of prosecutors per hotel every day to see if they comply or not with the sanitary measures ”.
In any case, Rodrigo Díaz emphasizes that they are doing “an important work of containment”, despite what is seen in the media and on social networks. And that, even, the staff of the brigades is subject to a significant risk of contagion every day trying to disperse parties with hundreds of attendees without face masks or healthy distance.
“It has been a constant battle, every day the brigades finish between three and four in the morning. And by this I mean that interventions are being made daily. If I had not intervened, I am sure that today the problem of parties would be four times greater in the state, ”concludes the state official.