Mexico City's Economy Suffers From Swine Flu
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Im Renee Montagne.
Of all the places with confirmed cases of swine flu, Mexico City is by far the hardest hit. There its not only a public health emergency, Mexico City's economy is getting pummeled. Even before the swine flu crisis, the outlook for Mexicos economy was bleak. Now, tens of thousands of businesses in the capital have shut their doors. And yesterday, authorities ordered all restaurants to close or only sell take-out. NPRs Jason Beaubien reports from Mexico City.
JASON BEAUBIEN: Last night, at La Vie Argentina Restaurant in the hip candescent neighborhood of Mexico City, all the waiters were lounging in the bar in their pressed white shirts and bowties. The tables were empty, but the music was still on, and a long buffet was laid out with platters of lamb cutlets, prosciutto, steamed green beans and sliced melon.
Mr. PABLO BRAUNTESSE(ph) (Manager, La Vie Argentina Restaurant): (Foreign language spoken)
BEAUBIEN: This is for tonight, but now were going to have to throw it away, says Pablo Brauntesse, the manager of the restaurant. He says the staff will take home bundles of the food, but much of it is going to get tossed.
Mr. BRAUNTESSE: (Foreign language spoken)
BEAUBIEN: Today, we got a message at about 11:00 in the morning, he says, saying that all restaurants in the capital must remain closed. La Vie Argentina is famous for its steaks. On a good night they serve 400 people. Brauntesse says most of his 50 employees are going to be out of work until the restaurant ban is lifted. Juan De Dios Barbo(ph), the head of a business group in the capital called Coparmex says the economic impact of the swine flu outbreak has already been huge.
Mr. JUAN DE DIOS BARBO (Coparmex): (Foreign language spoken)
BEAUBIEN: The economic damage to Mexico City is around $100 million a day. And if the crisis drags on, he says, it could get much worse.
Mexicos top three sources of revenue are oil, remittances from Mexicans working abroad and tourism. Last year, oil revenue fell by more than 50 percent. Remittances dropped for the first time since the central bank started tracking them. And now tourism looks like its about to take a hit.
The U.S. State Department issued an updated travel warning yesterday recommending against all nonessential travel to Mexico. It goes on to note most tourist attractions in the capital are shut in an effort to stop the spread of the swine flu virus.
Britain went a step further stating that British nationals may wish to consider whether they should remain in Mexico at this time.
(Soundbite of man yelling in Spanish)
BEAUBIEN: Robin Labourn(ph) is walking with a friend outside Mexico Citys main cathedral.
Mr. ROBIN LABOURN (British tourist): All my family, friends from U.K., Im getting phone calls, texts all the time saying get the hell out of Mexico.
BEAUBIEN: Labourn got here a week ago. He says he wanted to visit some of the museums, but theyre all closed. Even the pyramids on the outskirts of the city are off limits.
Mr. LABOURN: The restaurants are shut. I don't know. Weve just been staying in a lot more. And yes, its scary.
BEAUBIEN: Barbo at Coparmex says tourism revenue since the swine flu outbreak has fallen 80 percent. And hotels in the center of the city report that theyve seen a 30 to 50 percent drop in reservations. Yesterday, Cuba became the first country to cancel all flights to and from Mexico as a result of the new virus.
Mexicos tourism industry had managed to shake off at least some of the bad press about the countrys brutal drug war. Tourism actually grew in 2008. But swine flu may be more damaging to the industry than drug gangs battling in the streets. On Tuesday, three of the worlds largest cruise lines - Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian - canceled all stops at Mexican ports.
Jason Beaubien, NPR News, Mexico City.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.