Defending Mexico

A Texas travel warning unfairly portrays the safety situation in Mexico’s tourist destinations By: Mark Rogers
Cancun is a popular destination for spring break travelers. // © 2012 Cancun Convention & Visitors Bureau
Cancun is a popular destination for spring break travelers. // © 2012 Cancun Convention & Visitors Bureau

The Details

Mexico Tourist Board

Sometimes it seems that Mexico can’t catch a break. Last month, the Texas Department of Public Safety warned residents for the third consecutive year not to travel to Mexico during the upcoming university spring break season, stating that drug cartel violence was a safety threat far beyond the border cities and was also a danger to Mexico’s resort areas.

“Some bars and nightclubs in resort cities like Cancun, Acapulco, Mazatlan, Cabo San Lucas and Tijuana can be havens for drug dealers and petty criminals,” said Tom Vinger, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Public Safety.

The Texas warning is a blow to Mexico’s tourism prospects for 2012. About 60 percent of the visitors to Mexico come from the U.S. The advisory inspired pleas from Mexican officials for entities, such as the Texas Department of Public Safety, to be more specific in targeting the travel warnings to the specific areas experiencing the majority of the drug cartel violence.

“This warning is exceptionally aggressive,” said Rodolfo Lopez Negrete, CEO of the Mexico Tourism Board. “To paint Mexico with such a massively broad brush stroke is simply outrageous.”

Lopez further noted that the violence was not widespread and that of the 22.7 million tourists who visited Mexico last year, almost none were in the vicinity of any type of violence.

Mexico is a huge country with 31 states and measuring 761,601 square miles — nearly three times the size of Texas. Warning potential visitors to avoid the entire country seems irrational. It would be comparable to advising travelers not to visit Chicago because of violence in Detroit. An even more concise example is New York City. There are neighborhoods in New York that visitors should avoid, but knowing this does not quell the flow of visitors into the city.

“Those pockets where this violence is taking place [in Mexico] are very well identified,” said Negrete. “This is totally unrelated to tourism. This is not about attacking tourists.”

The Cancun Convention and Visitors Bureau was also quick to respond to the warning, stating that the Texas Department of Public Safety advisory provides contradicting information to the latest Federal Travel Warning, which states there is no advisory in effect for Cancun. The Cancun CVB posited that the Texas alert may cause unnecessary fear to the more than 20,000 tourists who scheduled to visit Cancun during the 2012 spring break season. The Cancun CVB brought to attention that Cancun is located more than 1,300 miles away from affected areas mentioned in the Federal Travel Warning and that the distance from Cancun to those regions are similar to the distance between Miami and New York City.

For the record, the U.S. State Department’s travel warning counseled Americans to avoid all but essential travel to all or parts of 14 of Mexico’s 31 states.

On a personal note, I’m a frequent visitor to Mexico. Most of my traveling is in major resort areas like the Riviera Maya and Los Cabos. During these trips, I’ve never felt even a blip of anxiety visiting those areas. Since I have family in Mexico, I’m also a frequent visitor to Tijuana. I acknowledge that Tijuana has a dangerous side, but in the dozen visits I’ve taken in the last two years, I haven’t experienced a violent incident, or even witnessed one. I take simple precautions and don’t frequent places in the city that have the potential for trouble. Last year, my wife and I drove from Tijuana deep into the heart of Mexico to Culiacan in the state of Sinaloa, a 20-hour drive. Using our common sense and taking minimal precautions, the trip went off without a hitch, even though we traveled through areas known for drug cartel violence. I wouldn’t advise U.S. citizens to visit these areas, and I wouldn’t choose to travel to Culiacan if I didn’t have family there. I only bring these travels up as an anecdotal example that if one is not looking for trouble, one most likely won’t find it. It would appear that I’m not alone in this thinking. Last month, the colonial city of Oaxaca welcomed 13-year-old Malia Ann Obama, the elder daughter of President Barack Obama. She visited the city in the company of 12 friends (and 25 U.S. Secret Service agents). I’m certain that Malia could choose anywhere in the world for her spring break vacation — the fact that she chose Mexico, and that her father approved — speaks volumes about the safety of the destination.

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