The Mexico Quandary – Safety or Savings?

The New York Times featured an article about Mexico recently in its travel section. The gist of the story is that although there are concerns about safety, people are still going to Mexico, especially for the savings on travel packages. Here’s a few of the highlights of the article:

To combat the perception that violence has been widespread, tourism officials in Mexico have invested $30 million in advertising and social media initiatives to spread the word that much of the country is safe for tourists. “Visitors have the right to be well informed,” said Alfonso Sumano, the regional director for the Mexico Tourism Board for the Americas. Many of the affected areas, he said, “are very far from the destinations tourists visit.”

The latest travel warning, issued by the State Department in September, urged American citizens to defer unnecessary travel specifically to Michoacán and areas along the northern border, including Tamaulipas, and parts of Chihuahua, Durango and Coahuila, where tourists generally don’t go. Yet, ever cautious, it stated, “violence has occurred throughout the country, including in areas frequented by American tourists.” Visitors were encouraged to stay on main roads in daylight hours and to remain in well-known tourist areas.
All of this has made travel to Mexico a hard sell lately, but travel agents say the negative publicity has also made Mexico among the best values out there as resorts lower rates or add free incentives to entice travelers. When asked where agents are recommending travelers go to get the most for their dollar this year, 70 percent said Mexico, according to Travel Leaders, a major network of agents.

The pricing strategy seems to be working. The number of international tourists arriving in Mexico by air from January to October was 8.2 million, according to the latest data from the Mexico Tourist Board. That is an increase of 17.8 percent compared with the same period last year, when Mexico endured a down economy, H1N1 scares and drug violence. Visitors are up 6.4 percent over the same period in 2008, which was considered to be one of the best years for travel to Mexico. The number of American travelers increased by 13.4 percent, compared with the same time period in 2009.

Part of the problem is that many travelers are unclear about where the violence has occurred and how it might affect their vacation, Mr. Brignone said. “People don’t realize that there are many regions and areas in the country that are not affected by the violence and drug wars,” he said. “It’s like saying I will not go to Dallas, or New York, because there are problems or riots in Los Angeles.”

Still, there are some tourist destinations travelers should steer clear of, at least for now. “I would not encourage my family to visit Acapulco right now,” said Josh Miller, who lives in Mexico City and is the general director for Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean for Control Risks, a risk management firm. “While a wonderful place to visit,” he said, “violent confrontations have been spilling over from the military effort against the cartels.” Travelers should also hold off on visits to Michoacán, in central Mexico. The state is a stronghold of La Familia, a drug cartel known for bold ambushes.

Popular resort areas, including Mazatlán, Puerto Vallarta, Ixtapa and Cancún’s resort strip are generally safe for travelers, Mr. Miller said, particularly if visitors stay within the resort’s boundaries. “Mexico is a volatile place,” he said. “You have to have your itinerary planned out quite well, consider transportation and stay abreast of latest developments.”

Read the full article here.



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