Mexico sees increase in American tourists despite ongoing pandemic

Despite a CDC warning to avoid all travel to Mexico, vacation hotspots like Quintana Roo and Cancun are seeing a surge of American tourists. This February and March, available flight seats are up almost 10 percent compared to 2020. Wendy Gillette reports.

Video Transcript

- Senator Ted Cruz is taking heat for his trip to Mexico this week, but he's not alone. Thousands of Americans are also flocking to Cancun and other resort cities. As Wendy Gillette reports, that's despite a CDC Travel Warning that Mexico is a COVID hot spot.

WENDY GILLETTE: The calming surf and blazing sun are ever reliable this time of the year in Quintana Roo, the most popular destination in the country for Americans. It's part of what drew Chuck Lewis and his wife, Janice, on a group trip from Elba, Alabama, to Dreams Natura Resort near Cancun, their first international trip since the start of the pandemic.

CHUCK LEWIS: I think Mexico is doing a good job of protecting itself, maybe more than some of the people in the United States.

WENDY GILLETTE: Trey Joys, from Louisville, Kentucky, came down for a long weekend with his girlfriend. They got tested before traveling, even though there was no testing requirement to enter Mexico. Joys says he already had COVID.

TREY JOYS: It does make me feel a little bit better, because I feel like I have the antibodies within my system.

WENDY GILLETTE: The Quintana Roo Tourism Board says just over 2 million Americans visited the state last year, down about half from pre-coronavirus 2019. But this February and March available flight seats are up almost 10%, compared to 2020. That's despite the CDC's highest level warning to avoid all travel to Mexico.

JACK EZON: Mexico has become our number one international destination. In fact, we grew about 200% in our business into Mexico.

WENDY GILLETTE: Outside the hotels, nightclubs are closed, but these open air bars are allowed to keep operating. Along Playa Del Carmen's popular Fifth Avenue, visitors and locals don't always wear masks. We ran into a team that patrols the area daily reminding people to mask up.

- People who don't want to wear a mask on the street, they should comply because it's a regulation.

WENDY GILLETTE: Last month, the CDC ordered air travelers provide proof that they'd tested negative for COVID no more than three days before flying to the United States, that includes Americans returning home. Many hotels in Quintana Roo began providing free rapid antigen tests before departure. These tests are fast and cheap studies show they're not as accurate as molecular-based PCR tests. Lab results can take several days.

JABIB CHAPUR: We have had two positive cases, both of them asymptomatic. They just finished their quarantine and flew back home.

WENDY GILLETTE: COVID or not, these resorts are proving popular. The Travel Advisor we spoke to says he's already getting many bookings from older clients who are about to get their second vaccine shot, planning to reunite with her extended family for a vacation here, starting next month.

Wendy Gillette, CBS News, Playa Del Carmen, Mexico.