Last year was not an easy time for Mexico City. On September 19th, the city suffered a severe 7.1 earthquake that took the life of 305 people and damaged close to 3,000 buildings. Strangely enough 32 years ago, on the exact same day, another deadly earthquake destroyed Mexico City, killing around 10,000 people. Other than the strange coincidence of the date, the outcomes have been very different. We learnt so much from the 1985 experience and the lives that we lost recently are significantly fewer. Even if this is good news, coming back from the earthquake has proven to be the most difficult part (and I can only speak on behalf of Mexico City, knowing that there are many communities and towns affected in Morelos, Oaxaca, Puebla, etc. that are going through a very challenging time).
The first few days after the earthquake happened, the international community focused all their attention on Mexico City, whilst most of the Mexicans were out on streets, trying to help however way possible. However, as the days went on, the international media forgot about the situation as we tried to move on with our lives. Nevertheless, there is still so much to do in terms of reconstruction and rebuilding; still so many people are homeless and unable to be find a new place to live. The real problem is that everything is taking too long and this is not something happening exclusively in Mexico, this is something that is happening in Puerto Rico, in the Caribbean, in Houston, in Napa, and in so many other places.
In these situations, tourism plays a key role in helping the communities rebuild their lives and helps to speed up the recovery time. In the aftermath of the Mexico City earthquake, travellers cancelled their trips leaving hotels with very low occupancy rates. By the beginning of the November, and thanks to the F1, most of our hotels are busy again but we need to work to keep this going. Hotels, restaurants and shops run on the money international travellers bring in so we need them to keep the city alive.
I recently was lucky enough to meet Sylvia Earle, one of the most respected marine biologists in the world, an explorer and a strong advocate for the ocean. Sylvia came to Mexico to promote her project ‘Mission Blue’, to raise awareness about the importance of looking after the ocean. Sylvia has created a network of ‘Hope Spots’ all over the world. These ‘Hope Spots’ are protected areas in the ocean that work as under water national parks where wildlife is protected from human threats (mainly indiscriminate fishing). Sylvia has been fighting to protect the ocean for a very long time, trying to get the world to understand the inevitable co-relationship between what is happening under the sea and what is happening on the surface. For Sylvia the connection is very clear, the recent hurricanes, floods and uncontrollable fires all connect with the state of the ocean.
Since we cannot see what is happening below the surface it is difficult to understand and get our head around the real damage we are doing to the ocean. Sylvia has made it her mission in life to ensure society understands the severity of the issue and respond accordingly. Sylvia made me realise, as I really did not understand the extent of the damage we are causing until I met her.
As travellers, and as citizens, we have choices. We choose where we go, we choose what we eat, we choose how we spend our money. As an international travel community our decisions can make a huge difference. As travel agents, we should encourage tourism in an area that is recovering from a natural disaster. As journalists, we should use our pages to tell the stories of those people in the world who are making a difference. In the aftermath of a very complicated 2017, and with so many communities and cities affected by natural disasters (and sadly, many human threats), we need to be more conscious than ever on the choices we make. There is no excuse, because we are able to make the right choice. Hopefully, now, more than ever, we will be aware of the importance and the power behind each decision we make.
María Pellicer has been Editor-in-Chief of Travesías Magazine for the past seven years, travelling the world looking for stories. Travesías are regular media attendees at ILTM events; catch them first at ILTM Latin America this May!