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Mexico Resorts Offer ‘Flu-Free’ Deal

Desperate to woo back travelers who cancelled trips in the wake of Mexico's swine flu outbreak, more than 20 coastal resort hotels have launched a "flu-free guarantee": Guests who catch the H1N1 virus in Mexico — and have the blood test to prove it — can get their next three vacations for free.

The initiative comes as the country's tourism industry tallies staggering losses from a flu epidemic that Mexican officials first confirmed on April 23. The country's official death toll rose to 64 Thursday, with 2,656 confirmed infections. The virus has so far infected nearly 6,500 people worldwide, including 3,352 cases in the USA.

After the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and U.S. State Department warned travelers against nonessential trips to Mexico, U.S. cruise lines dropped port calls, airlines waived cancellation fees and resorts emptied. The advisory remains in effect despite lobbying efforts from Mexican hoteliers and the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association, whose May 5 letter to President Obama noted that "it is now apparent that the health implications of H1N1 are not limited to Mexico, (and) CDC and WHO officials have publicly stated the H1N1 virus is generally no greater health risk than seasonal influenza."

Tourism minister Rodolfo Elizondo estimated this week that a flu-related drop in foreign visitors could cost Mexico up to 250,000 jobs and as much as $4 billion. this year, or nearly a third of what the country earned from 22.6 million visitors last year.

The new flu guarantee is offered at Real Resorts, AMResorts, and Karisma's El Dorado and Azul hotels, most in Cancun or the Riviera Maya. At least 25 Cancun hotels have closed because of low occupancy, and many are slashing rates.

To qualify for a free vacation under the flu guarantee, travelers must have made a new reservation at a participating hotel between May 8 and June 30 for travel taking place between May 8 and Dec. 20, 2009.

Sniffles don't count: Guests must provide a doctor's certification and positive test results, taken within five days of departure, for Influenza A — H1N1. The three return stays — one per year — are valid for the original traveler plus one companion; blackout dates and other restrictions apply.

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