This year’s travel restrictions have weighed heavily on the Mexican tourism industry. International arrivals in July dropped by 90% in Mexico City and 84% in Cancun. Considering that 9% of Mexican GDP derives from the tourism industry, authorities have taken a step forward to jumpstart the sector.
The UNESCO World Heritage site of Teotihuacán, also dubbed “The City of the Gods” is now open with visitor capacity kept to 3000 visitors per day, about 30% of its usual volume. Strict rules on safe distancing, temperature checks, constantly applying hand sanitizer and wearing facemasks will be mandatory upon entrance and inside the precinct. Nevertheless, narrow stairs and safe distancing do not match, so climbing the slender-staired ancient monoliths, such as the Pyramids of the Sun and Moon, will not be allowed.
The preciously authentic Aztec Citadel was buzzing with the life of 100,000 to 200,000 natives between 100 B.C and 750 A.D. During that time, the region held an important role as a political and commercial hub, until it was abandoned in the 14th Century. Fast-forwarding to contemporary dates, The City of the Gods was listed as a vital UNESCO site in 1987, and continuously receives religious and cultural tourists from Mexico and Central America, as it is believed that the Pyramids are points of energy to “recharge your batteries”.
Although it is estimated that 80% of visitors are national travellers, considering that it’s only 45 minutes away from Mexico City, the area started receiving hordes of international tourists within the past 10 years, many of them being European. At the equinox of springtime (March – high season) 2010, Teotihuacán received 70, 358 national and international visitors, and between January and September 2019, 2.6 million.
The Coronavirus pandemic is a pause for thought on how we manage culturally and historically priceless monuments for touristic gain. Since local employees, employers and supervisors at tourist attractions have to level out quarantine losses, opening their doors is necessary. Teotihuacán is a positive example of how hygiene and social distancing measures can be paired with a cap on carrying capacity and faithful time slots, in order to prevent mass tourism and reckless behaviour that may both damage the archaeological authenticity, and cause the virus to spread.
This situation begs the question: If Coronavirus ever becomes a thing of the past, will important attractions such as The City of the Gods uphold these critical measures of safety and corresponding heritage site sustainability, or will we come back to our old “mass tourism” model that erodes the very attractions it promotes?