Mexico Secretary of Tourism Gloria Guevara sought to bring order out of the chaos and confusion surrounding the most recent travel warning issued by the U.S. State Department.
The alert, issued April 22, expanded the areas in Mexico that are experiencing drug-cartel-related violence and advised U.S. travelers to exercise caution in visiting some parts of Mexico.
In an exclusive interview with Travel Weekly Editor in Chief Arnie Weissmann during a webinar on TravelWeekly.com, Guevara acknowledged the challenges facing Mexico in dealing with the cartels but used statistics, survey results and a geography lesson to reassure agents that the tourist areas “are far removed from the drug violence and remain safe and value-driven destinations for U.S. travelers.”
During a half-hour session during the webinar, entitled “Mexico: Perceptions and Reality,” Guevara stayed on message that Mexico remains a popular and safe destination; in a large country of 2,500 municipalities, only 80 are affected by the headline-grabbing gang violence, she said.
She told Weissmann that the Mexico Tourism Board works with the U.S. Embassy in Mexico to pinpoint specific cities and locations targeted by the cartels so that the warnings can carry specific recommendations for travelers. “But with a country as large as Mexico, this is quite a challenge,” she said.
Guevara said that a map and accompanying chart produced by Travel Weekly detailing the specifics of the warning by color-coding in red the cities or areas to be avoided, yellow to exercise caution and green as safe areas not mentioned in the warning “are good tools for understanding and clarifying the specifics of the warning.” View the map by clicking the image to enlarge.
Mexico’s major tourism destinations are, for the most part, located hundreds, sometimes thousands of miles from crime areas, and are areas not visited or frequented by tourists.
“More than 60% of our visitors go to the known tourist areas, including Cancun, the Riviera Maya, Cozumel, Los Cabos and the Riviera Nayarit," Guevara said. "Add Mexico City, Guadalajara and Puerto Vallarta and that number is 90%."
She added, “none of these areas have problems, and all are safe for our visitors.”
The drug-related violence is not targeted at tourists, she emphasized. “There has been a spike in cartel violence. This is our challenge, but we are focused. This violence affects less than 5% of our country, and none of it is in tourist areas.”
Guevara was asked specifically about Guadalajara, which the warning cited as being unsafe for travel on the road from the city to the airport at night.
“Guadalajara is safe," she said. "We are hosting the Pan Am Games Oct. 14 to 30 in the city and surrounding areas. This is the largest multisport event of the year, and we are proud to play host."
She was also asked about Acapulco, which the warning targeted as being unsafe in the downtown areas, and the secretary acknowledged the challenges facing the destination. “But it is a city in transformation," she said. "It is a destination favored by Mexicans for weekend stays and second homes. It has a great night life, and visitors should stay in the tourist areas.”
The secretary pointed out that a survey that tracks visitor satisfaction is done every year; 2010 results showed a 98% return-visitor rate.
“This means that 98% of those who had visited Mexico indicated that they would return to Mexico on a future trip,” Guevara said.
In 2009, that percentage was 97%.
Another result indicated that 99% of the 10,400 visitors surveyed in 2010 would recommend Mexico to friends and family, up from 97% in 2009.
Mexico’s market share of U.S. visitors in 2010 was 14.7%, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce figures.
“Those are good indicators of Mexico’s popularity in terms of visitor appeal," Guevara said. "Our investment figures also show that Mexico ranks high with developers. In the first quarter of 2011, more than $902 million was spent on tourism projects, an increase of 127% over the same period last year."
To listen to a replay of the webinar with Weissmann and Guevara, register here.