American travelers looking for countries to vacation in this summer may find only a few willing to accept them. One of those countries is Mexico.
If you read what major travel media outlets are publishing on the coronavirus situation in Mexico, you might be left with the impression that everything is on the mend south of the border.
Search online for anything related to Mexico travel and coronavirus and you are likely to find a recent CNN Travel article titled “Mexico Travel and Coronavirus: Everything you need to know.”
The 1,548 word article is chock full of quotes from Mexican government officials, hotel owners, tourism boards, and airlines about when, where, and how travel is resuming.
But, for a guide promising to tell you “everything you need to know” about Mexico travel and coronavirus, there is something pretty important missing from CNN’s article:
Information about Mexico’s coronavirus epidemic.
Any information. Like, at all.
The article features zero quotes from public health experts. It includes zero stats about the number or trajectory of new cases, deaths, or hospital admissions. It offers zero information about Mexico’s testing efforts.
In fact, CNN Travel apparently could not spare even a single sentence to inform readers about how Mexico is actually faring against the coronavirus. [Update: After I mounted a weeks-long pressure campaign on social media, CNN Travel finally relented and edited the article on June 30 to include some mention of the epidemic].
Mexico is Definitely Not Beating the Coronavirus
So how is the epidemic going in Mexico, then?
Well, let’s take a look at Mexico’s coronavirus curve:
You don’t need a degree in epidemiology to know that curve is not flat. In fact, Mexico is actually one of the places in the world that most concerns international public health experts.
Just one day before CNN Travel published its article, Mexico recorded its highest number of new cases up to that point (it’s since surpassed that mark several times). According to the John Hopkins coronavirus tracker, Mexico currently has the 7th highest death toll in the world – and it’s still climbing. In parts of Mexico, hospitals have been teetering on the brink of collapse.
And the situation might be even worse than we know because Mexico is significantly behind the world on testing. In the state of Quintana Roo, home to 1.5 million residents and major tourist destinations like Cancun and Tulum, the government is conducting only about 60 tests per day.
Just yesterday, WHO representative Cristian Morales warned that Mexico is currently at “one of the most complex and dangerous moments of the epidemic.”
Unfortunately, Mexico’s bombastic President Andrés Manuel López Obrador mostly denies the problem, while continuing to spread so much misinformation about the virus that he makes Donald Trump look positively scholarly in comparison.
Bottom line: Mexico is definitely not doing well.
But, here’s the thing:
A traveler considering booking a flight to Mexico wouldn’t know ANY of this from reading that uncritical CNN Travel article.
Which is especially curious because CNN Travel clearly should know the public health situation in Mexico is not great. Just look at the coverage from CNN’s non-travel reporters. A recent CNN News article on Latin America, with a Mexico City dateline, bore this alarming title: “The world’s new Covid-19 epicenter could be the worst yet.”
Yet the travel desk at CNN apparently didn’t think that dire forecast was worth at least a passing mention in their supposedly comprehensive coronavirus travel guide.
I wish I could say the problem is limited to CNN Travel.
But Much of The Travel Media Is Failing to Report Mexico’s Coronavirus Situation
In fact, a lack of basic public health info permeates the majority of travel news articles about Mexico tourism I’ve seen published lately.
To be clear, the problem is not that travel publications are covering the impending loosening of travel restrictions. Clearly that’s a newsworthy story. But it’s also not the whole story.
Myopically focusing only on the lifting of legal restrictions risks leaving readers uninformed about the safety risks they are assuming when they book a flight.
And, instead of just reporting the facts, many outlets actually take it a step further by actively hyping travel to Mexico.
Take this article from Matador Network, which starts with the line “Good news for your tropical summer vacation plans,” and then proceeds to assert, without sourcing, that the areas opening to tourism “aren’t still in the midst of a serious coronavirus outbreak.”
Lonely Planet also uncritically accepts the government narrative, starting its article with the following sentence: “Mexico plans to welcome travellers from June, but only in parts of the country where the coronavirus pandemic has been brought under control.” (emphasis mine)
Neither outlet bothers to mention that cases are still rising in many of those supposedly “under control” areas, or to question why few tests are even being done in the first place. Neither do they disclose that some areas are only opening because of a pretty controversial and questionable decision to label tourism as an “essential activity.”
Worse yet, some outlets almost seem to be going out of their way to keep travelers uninformed. Consider CNN Travel’s decision to title their article “everything you need to know” about coronavirus and Mexico travel. They are explicitly inviting travelers to start and end their research with an article that is, at best, materially incomplete.
Similarly, take this May 31 Forbes article, which also sits near the top of many popular Google search terms involving the words Mexico, travel, and coronavirus.
Forbes does do slightly better than CNN Travel – to the author’s credit, Forbes at least mentions that cases are rising in parts of Mexico. But Forbes implies the problem is limited to a few of Mexico’s states, and then wraps up with a proclamation that looks like it was pulled straight from a government press release:
And it’s not just what Forbes says that is problematic – it’s how they do it. From the format of that snippet, it is clear to anyone with SEO expertise that Forbes is trying to capture the precious “featured snippet” or “people also ask” real estate on the first page of Google. If they succeed, many people looking to understand Cancun’s coronavirus safety situation will see that paragraph and nothing more.
Failing to Report Mexico’s Outbreak Could Have Serious Safety Consequences
Since Mexico is one of the few international destinations opening to US travelers, there is a lot of interest right now from Americans looking to salvage a summer vacation.
Why are major #travel media outlets like @CNNTravel, @MatadorNetwork, @Forbes, and @lonelyplanet publishing articles promoting tourism to #Mexico without addressing its surging #coronavirus outbreak? https://t.co/0lqePfRLKK— Nate Hake (Travel Lemming) (@travellemming) June 10, 2020
All this risks creating a concerning feedback loop: as more travel journalists write uncritically about Mexico, it feeds demand from tourists, which in turn causes travel publications to create more content to feed that demand.
And, look, I don’t mean to say that every source of travel news has been equally at fault in this, or that there aren’t some outlets practicing responsible travel journalism regarding Mexico’s coronavirus safety situation.
But, unfortunately, some of the most problematic coverage seems to be coming from outlets and articles with the largest online audiences.
And, sure, some travelers may not be bothered by all this. Not everyone fears coronavirus, and some will be willing travel to Mexico no matter its epidemiological situation.
But many travelers definitely DO care, and when they search for information about Mexico coronavirus safety online, they deserve the facts from the big name travel media outlets.
Considering the stakes involved, travel journalists have a professional obligation to provide a more complete picture of the situation than what’s being printed right now.