Apple Leisure Group's Alex Zozaya

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A news report from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel citing cases of Mexico resort-goers who allegedly blacked out after consuming alcohol has some clients worried about travel to Mexico. Travel Weekly's Michelle Baran spoke with Alex Zozaya, president and CEO of Apple Leisure Group, which manages numerous properties in Mexico via its AMResorts brand, about how big the illegal alcohol problem is south of the border.

Q: Do you feel that using illegal alcohol at resorts is a serious problem in Mexico?

Alex Zozaya
Alex Zozaya

A: When they talk about 43% adulterated or fake alcohol, I don't know where they get these [numbers] from, but obviously the lack of reliable sources is amazing and those comments shouldn't be taken lightly. [Editor's note: According to a 2015 report by Mexico's Tax Administration Service cited by the Journal Sentinel, 43% of all the alcohol consumed in Mexico is illegal.]

At all the hotels, whether it is a case of someone being drugged or someone passing out or anything related to these kind of bad experiences, it should be taken seriously, and we are. But yes, in Mexico, there is counterfeiting of alcohol as well as of other products just like there is in the U.S. But that doesn't mean that if you go to the right establishment that you're going to end up consuming one of those fake products. Even if you do, that doesn't mean that you will get sick like the cases that have been promoted heavily in the media recently. We receive, just in Cancun and Quintana Roo, more than 10 million tourists a year. And now we're talking about maybe five, six, 10, 20 cases over the last 13 or 14 years. Can you imagine if 43% of the alcohol served in the resorts and outside of the resorts in the nightclubs, bars, etc., can you imagine if that was fake and the fact that being fake would have an effect similar to the ones that have been published lately? We would be talking about literally millions of cases.

Q: From where does AMResorts source its alcohol?

A: Now, the serious establishments like our resorts, like Iberostar, which has been mentioned multiple times [in the Journal Sentinel article], like most of the hotel chains in Mexico with good reputations, we all have filters. As a result of this situation that is happening, yes, we are reinforcing, we are having additional filters, not just in our hotels but on our alcohol suppliers, as well. In the case of AMResorts, we buy almost all our alcohol, 90% of our alcohol, from one distributor. And it's the most serious and most reliable distributor in the country, and it will pass any filter.

Q: So, if it's not the booze, what is the problem?

A: There [are] cases, and it's very worrisome, that more and more people are combining drugs with alcohol. A lot of these tourists are taking antidepressants, sleeping pills, anti-anxiety, blood pressure pills, that they should not be mixing with alcohol. And when they're at the resort, they're on holiday and they do mix it with alcohol. That's one reason. I'm not blaming on that one, but that's one reason. The other one is that, yes, the distribution of drugs at resorts, whether it's Las Vegas or Cancun, or whether it's Ibiza, is growing. And people are combining. And some people are doing so involuntarily, and those are clearly the very sad cases. I don't doubt that there's a case where someone goes to a bar and someone puts a drug in their drink. And by the way, these cases that I've been hearing, it doesn't sound like it's a result of a fake alcohol or a cheaper brand, it sounds to me like it's more like adding a drug in the drinks -- which, could that be done by some of the bartenders in the bars in the hotels? Yes, it could. But also by other customers. In many cases, it's one group of passengers or guests that is hanging or partying with another one, and they drug each other.

I'm not trying to make small the problem of having counterfeit alcohol, but blowing this out of proportion the way the media is doing right now and saying that 43% of the alcohol is fake and you could die of that is so ridiculous. This is happening because these cases -- which are very sad, which are very painful, nobody wants that to happen to anybody -- are emerging now, not because they are at a higher pace than they were in the past, not because it's an alarming situation that now the percentage of people passing out or blanking out or dying is increasing, but because now there are stories that the media can follow and blow this completely out of proportion.  

Q: Do you think the authorities are policing this enough?

A:
These stats on the percentage of adulterated drinks are coming from the Mexican government because they are recognizing that there is a problem ... and they're cracking down on that. I do think the Mexican authorities are doing something about it. I think they could do more. I'm sure, as a result of this, they will do more.

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