The swine flu epidemic has caused Mexico’s UK tourist arrivals to plummet this year, according to latest tourist board figures.

Arrivals in the January to August period totalled 172,000, compared with 311,000 in the 12 months of 2008.

Mexico Tourism Board UK deputy director Lupita Ayala said a recovery campaign had concentrated on sponsoring cultural events, such as the Aztec exhibition at the British Museum, in order to offset the need for mass-market discounting.

“Mexico is accessible and value for money, but I could not say that it is cheaper,” she said. “That is why we are supporting cultural exhibitions.”

Both British Airways and Mexicana have maintained their services to Mexico City despite the slump in demand.

Ayala said it was eventually hoped to restore a scheduled link to Cancun, the most popular entry point for UK tourists, which British Airways (BA) axed after the 2001 terrorist attacks.

“We are in talks with some of the airlines,” she said. “Virgin is still showing an interest and BA wants to come back to Cancun but I don’t think it is going to be next year.”