RIVIERA MAYA, Mexico — Travelers to Mexico say they are enjoying their vacations and not letting concerns about drug-related violence stop them from visiting what they consider safe tourist destinations.
"One of my co-workers asked me why I was going and whether I was scared," said Amy Thill of Buffalo, N.Y., who is vacationing in the Riviera Maya with her sister. "I feel very safe."
Mexico made headlines this month with the killings of three people affiliated with the U.S. Consulate in Ciudad Juarez, a border town just south of El Paso, Texas, and of 32 people in a three-day period in Acapulco, the seaside resort city on Mexico’s west coast. The killings are believed to be drug-related.
A warning from the U.S. State Department, updated March 14, was related primarily to travel in border states but also touched on crime throughout Mexico and urged U.S. citizens to "stay in the well-known tourist areas." The warning was published just as the spring break crowd was starting its annual surge to Mexico beaches.
But Americans interviewed at the Cancun airport and along the Riviera Maya said that although they were aware of the recent drug-related violence, they were not letting it deter them from their vacations.
Steve Lange of Parker, Colo., vacationing with his family on the Riviera Maya, said his wife was a little nervous before she checked into the reports of violence.
"But we’re way across the country," he said. "Nothing is happening here."
Marie Challis of Williston, N.D., said family and friends questioned her about her decision, but she said, "I honestly feel like there’s nothing to be afraid of."
According to the Cancun Convention and Visitors Bureau, there were no reports of cancellations at Cancun hotels after the Acapulco and border violence. The bureau said it expects the number of students arriving for spring break vacations to be down this year but arrivals by post-college adults to be up.
There have been several events, including a meeting planners’ convention, that have boosted hotel occupancy, which has been running nearly 73% in Cancun for the last few weeks, the CVB said.
Norma Preciado, sales director for Ocean Breeze Hotels, said the company saw few cancellations as a result of the most recent shootings in Mexico. Ocean Breeze has properties in Acauplco, Mazatlan and Riviera Maya, and is part of Grupo Vidanta, which owns several hotel companies in Mexico.
In Acapulco, the Ocean Breeze is expecting 100% occupancy for Easter week, she said. The resort draws most of its business, however, from Mexico City, and the domestic tourism market isn’t as skittish about drug-related violence as travelers from the U.S.
At Riviera Maya’s Ocean Breeze there were seven cancellations in the days following the Ciudad Juarez shootings, but Preciado said it was impossible to know why the cancellations occurred.
March bookings have been strong for all Ocean Breeze hotels and other Grupo Vidanta properties (Grand Mayan, Mayan Palace), and the company is expecting occupancy for the spring break season and the entire of month of March (considered the last month of the peak season) to be an improvement over 2009.
Meanwhile, Acapulco is expecting a smaller number of spring break travelers from the U.S. this year, but tourism officials blame the expected drop on the recession and not on violence between drug gangs.
"We did research and asked travel agents who specialize in spring break why there are fewer coming this year, and they said it is because of the economy," said Piquis Rochin, director of international promotions for the Acapulco Destination Marketing Office.
Last year, Acapulco hosted an estimated 15,000 spring breakers from the U.S. and Canada. This year, Rochin believes the number will drop to between 7,000 and 12,000.
Rochin said she had heard no reports of any cancellations as a result of the violence. Local officials beefed up police patrols in the city and on the beaches.
"This is being done to make parents back at home feel better," she said. "Life is very normal in Acapulco, and I recommend that people come here and enjoy a normal vacation without any fears."