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Mexico tourism braces for swine flu slowdown

European travel warnings and canceled trips likely to hit Mexico's $13 billion a year industry.

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Europeans today were told to avoid travel to Mexico unless essential. The biggest tour operators in Germany and Japan canceled all trips to Mexico.

Asian countries with memories of the 2003 SARS scare banned Mexican pork imports. And several US and Mexican airlines have waived fees for passengers wanting to change their travel dates – as concerns of a swine flu pandemic, with its epicenter in Mexico, grow.

Already reeling from the global economic crisis, Mexico's tourism industry in particular, is bracing for a further blow.

This past year, tourism industry brought in $13 billion, making it the third largest source of foreign currency after remittances and oil revenues.

While the severity and scope of the swine flu outbreak is still unclear, if past health scares are any indication, its recovery could take time.

"Tourism is one of the first things impacted; it is a fragile industry, because people get scared," says Hailin Qu, director of the Center for Hospitality and Tourism Research at Oklahoma State University. He says that tourism industries in Asian nations impacted by SARS took between one and two years to rebound.

"It depends on how many cases there are," says Mr. Qu, who says he received an e-mail this morning from colleagues from China who are canceling their trip to the US amid the scare.

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