Baja's whale-watching business hard hit by pandemic

 


The pandemic has dealt a devastating blow to the whale-watching business in the northwestern Mexican state of Baja California Sur, with the most recent season suffering an 85 percent drop in the number of visitors.


“This year has been catastrophic for (that sector’s) finances, and whale-related activities aren’t generating (sufficient) income. In some cases, it’s only enough to pay staff, which has already been reduced by 50 percent,” Enrique Achoy, a tourism entrepreneur, told Efe on Monday.


Baja California Sur each year welcomes around 3,000 whales, and more than 1,500 of these giant cetaceans are born in its waters; the latest whale-watching season began in November 2020 and will end early this month.


Fully aquatic marine mammals that are grouped into four different families, whales can grow up to 32 meters (104 feet) in length, weigh as much as 180 tons and live up to 80 years.


Baja California Sur is home to six of the country’s most important whale sanctuaries. Thousands of these cetaceans make the 18,000-kilometer (11,200-mile) journey from the frigid, food-rich waters of the Bering Sea to the warmer waters off Mexico, where they breed and bear their calves.


Whale watching is the most important tourist attraction in Baja California Sur, which is home to dozens of outstanding beaches yet is a state whose GDP is 70 percent dependent on tourism.


Mexico suffered a 47.5 percent drop year-over-year in international arrivals in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, which translated into a loss of $13.55 billion in tourism revenue.


Baja California Sur, meanwhile, has been disproportionately affected by the health emergency.


“The coup de grace has been the (high expenses) that companies have to incur. (The cost of) insurance that’s essential to provide service rose by 30 percent,” Achoy said.


In addition, due to its location in the Baja California Peninsula, the cost of transporting supplies and personnel are higher than in other parts of Mexico and hurt the state’s competitiveness relative to other ecotourism activities offered elsewhere, he added.


And the coronavirus protocols require that trucks and ships operate at just 30 percent of their capacity, leading to a tripling of costs, Achoy said.


He also complained that the Navy Secretariat and the National Commission of Natural Protected Areas (Conanp) raised the cost of obtaining permits by 80 percent and 50 percent, respectively.


“In that sense, for every 780 pesos (just over $37) that are obtained for every domestic visitor, 90 pesos ($4.20) go to the Conanp, or more than 10 percent per visitor,” Achoy said.


Despite the difficulties, Mexico was still the third most visited country worldwide in 2020. However, it also is the nation with the third most deaths attributed to Covid-19 with nearly 200,000 and has reported 2.1 million confirmed cases to date.


Although there are continued health concerns, Baja California Sur’s authorities insist that destination is in compliance with the highest international standards.


In Mulege, a municipality that is home to the Ojo de Liebre (Hare Eye Lagoon), Mexico’s largest whale sanctuary, the Tourism Department recognizes that the health protocols raised costs for businesses by 30 percent.


But the coronavirus security measures are non-negotiable, said Antonio Cota, Mulege’s deputy tourism director, who added that he is hopeful that progress with the rollout of the Covid-19 vaccine will provide relief to the industry.


“The only way to have healthy tourism and ease these health measures is the correct application of the Covid-19 vaccine,” Cota said. (Mahatma Fong - EFE-EPA)


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