Mexico's tourism industry went into damage control mode this week as tour
operators reported that bookings to the country were taking a hit following the
State Department's recent travel warning that cited increased homicide rates in
the resort states of Baja California Sur and Quintana Roo.
"If you compare the rate in terms of homicides per
100,000 inhabitants in any city in the world, those particular destinations are
very low," said Alfonso Sumano, international offices director for the
Mexico Tourism Board. "I'm not saying that there are no problems ... but
the Mexico authorities are aware of certain incidents or certain problems that
they have been facing in areas close to the destinations but not affecting any
tourists or people enjoying the destinations.
"I truly believe that the travel advice, that the
travel recommendation, is very clear and they are not recommending not to go,
they are just recommending to use your common sense," he added.
Sumano pointed out that Mexico had a 12.6% increase in U.S.
visitors in July 2017 compared with July 2016, and an 11.8% increase, or 6.7
million additional U.S. visitors, from January through July 2017 compared with
the same period the year before.
But that growth appears to potentially be in jeopardy following
the updated travel warning, which came on the heels of a series of reports
alleging that potentially tainted alcohol was being served at all-inclusive
Tour operators reported that following the Aug. 22 release
of the updated travel warning, they began experiencing a slowdown in Mexico
bookings and an increase in cancellations.
"Insofar as impact on business, we have seen an uptick
in cancellations, but we still see demand as being strong," said David Hu,
CEO of Classic Vacations. "With all destinations, we advise our travelers
to be aware of their surroundings and be cautious in certain situations, but we
feel that the destination overall is much safer than the warning paints."
Alex Zozaya, president and CEO of Apple Leisure Group, said
that in the week following the new travel warning, overall bookings to Mexico
were down while Cancun bookings fell 20%.
Mexico cancellations were also up, with some travelers
opting for Caribbean destinations instead.
Zozaya believes that two high-profile incidents led to the
new travel warning: an organized
crime-related shooting on a public beach in Los Cabos in August in which three
people were killed, and a shootout at a club in Playa del Carmen in January
leaving five people dead.
His main concern, however, is that the political rhetoric
painting Mexico as an extremely unsafe destination, and the media coverage of
it, could ultimately do the most damage.
"When the president Tweets 'let's build the wall,' that's
fine. But [when he calls] Mexico 'one of the most dangerous countries in the
world' -- that's the message that really hurts, that's the message that is
increasing the concerns or the anxiety, that's not helping at all," Zozaya
President Trump tweeted on Aug. 27, "With Mexico being
one of the highest crime Nations in the world, we must have THE WALL."
Zozaya added that while he doesn't feel the State Department's
travel warning was entirely politically motivated, he does think it is being
blown out of proportion.
The warning, he said, "is factually correct, but it is
partially correct. The percentage of tourists killed [in Mexico], that's much
lower than most tourism destinations including tourism destinations in the U.S."
Along those lines, Mark Travel Corp. issued a statement to
travel agents advising them to "arm yourself with the facts about Mexico
travel safety, but also don't be afraid to share your own personal experience
about the destination, hotels and the people of Mexico."
Despite the warning and the media coverage of safety issues
in Mexico, the company stated that it continues to sell the destination with
confidence and thinks that Mexico will remain one of its top destinations.