Category Archives: Mexico

Violence in Mexico Causes Princess Cruise Lines To Cancel Calls to Puerto Vallarta & Mazatlan

Princess Cruises canceled calls to Puerto Vallarta on three cruises aboard the Sapphire Princess for security reasons.

The cruises depart Los Angeles on Nov. 19, and Dec. 10 and 31.

The line earlier this year had already canceled calls to Mazatlan, another Pacific destination on Mexican Riviera cruises.

“Our security department continues to monitor the actions taking place in specific areas of Mexico. As the safety and security of our passengers and crew is our highest priority and based on the continued violence in these areas, we’ve made the decision to cancel our calls to Puerto Vallarta and Mazatlan,” a Princess spokeswoman said.

Princess would not elaborate beyond its statement, declining to cite any incidents in Puerto Vallarta that prompted the decision to cancel calls.

The affected Sapphire Princess itineraries will substitute calls in Cabo San Lucas and Ensenada.

Is Mexico's Violence Overblown?

Mexican President Felipe Calderón is touting 2011 as the year of tourism, and the Mexico Tourism Board is spending millions of dollars on ads.

Yet the nation’s deadly drug wars have led the U.S. government to widen its travel warnings in recent weeks, throwing a wrench into Mexico’s effort to attract foreign visitors.

Nearly half of all available rooms in 70 major resort centers in Mexico have been vacant this year, except for the Easter crowd that nearly filled the hotels for a few days over the holiday weekend, according to the tourism board.

Some U.S. travel agents and Mexican officials believe news about the violence has been overblown. “Bad things can happen anywhere,” said Rita Wilcox of Rocky Point Reservations travel agency in Phoenix. “But people are afraid, so even those who have the money to go might not. It’s affected every business down there tremendously.”

In Acapulco, the occupancy rate at major resorts slid 7 percentage points to 38.4 percent last year from 2008. In that period, Cancun’s rate tumbled to 57.4 percent from 72.1 percent, according to the Mexico Tourism Board. Los Cabos, Puerto Vallarta and Riviera Maya have seen similar declines.

Overall, the number of international visitors has fallen 13 percent to 79.8 million last year from 91.5 million in 2008, according to Banco de Mexico. The trend isn’t looking better this year: In January, 3.8 million day-trippers crossed the U.S. border into Mexico, down 16 percent from the same month last year.

It was the violence that prompted the State Department advisory as well as a separate warning from the Texas Department of Public Safety urging spring-break vacationers to give Mexico a wide berth.

As lawlessness escalated last year, 111 Americans were killed in Mexico, compared with just 35 in 2007, authorities said. Others have been kidnapped from hotels, carjacked at gunpoint and targeted for extortion.

The State Department has urged travelers to avoid the states of Tamaulipas and Michoacan and parts of Sonora, Chihuahua, Coahuila, Sinaloa, Durango, Zacatecas, San Luis Potosi and Jalisco.

Is Calderon Telling The Truth About Drug Violence In Mexico?

Mexican President Felipe Calderon said Thursday that drug violence in Mexico isn’t hurting international tourism or the country’s plans to grow the industry.

Calderon told a group of travel industry executives in Las Vegas that international tourism was up 6 percent last year in Mexico, with 10 percent more American tourists visiting the country.

With 23 million international visitors last year and 6 million on cruise ships, Calderon said there were “almost zero” incidents of tourists encountering crime related to drug cartels.

Violence has been a consistent problem in Mexico, with frequent reports of killings and kidnappings related to the nation’s drug war. Late Tuesday, gunmen opened fire in an auto body shop in the Gulf Coast state of Tabasco, killing nine people. In the southern state of Guerrero, six people were killed earlier this week, including four police officers.

The U.S. State Department has warned Americans to stick to tourist areas and legitimate businesses, avoiding areas where criminal activity might happen. The department said that while there is no evidence of criminals targeting Americans because of their citizenship, the number of Americans killed in Mexico increased from 35 in 2007 to 111 in 2010.

Texas also warned college students earlier this year about going to Mexico for spring break, but Calderon said the vacationers encountered no problems.

“Let me tell you, I saw thousands, thousands of spring breakers in Mexico having fun,” Calderon said. “And from my understanding, the only shots they received were tequila shots — a lot of them.”

According to the World Travel & Tourism Council, international visitors spent $15 billion in Mexico in 2010, up from $12.3 billion in 2009. Domestic travel spending was also up to $78.9 billion, from $68.2 billion in 2009, and the council projects both figures will be up again in 2011.

Calderon said Mexico is proving to be an attractive investment for foreign travel companies, with $4 billion in investments in Mexico during the first quarter this year.

“Mexico is a safe place to visit,” Calderon said.

“Yes we have problems… We are dealing with that, we are facing it,” he said. “But at the same time, we have everything.”

Earlier this year, Calderon pledged with state governors to declare 2011 the year of tourism in Mexico, the start of a campaign to push international visits to the country even higher by 2020.

Calderon said that right now, Mexico is the 10th most visited country in the world by international travelers, and he wants that to improve to 5th by the end of the decade.

U.S. Broadens Mexico Travel Warning

The U.S. State Department has broadened its travel warning for Mexico, advising citizens to avoid certain areas and steer clear of driving at night.

The new alert, issued late last week, urges Americans to defer nonessential travel in regions where drug-related violence has surged, including the border state of Tamaulipas and the central state of Michoacan.

It also warns against nonessential travel in parts of eight other states, significantly expanding the scope of an alert issued in September.

“There’s pretty much no state that hasn’t been touched by this. … We’ve seen some major, high-value cartel targets that have been taken down by the Mexican government, but that doesn’t appear to have quelled a lot of the violence,” said Fred Burton, vice president of the Stratfor global intelligence agency. “We see no short-term end in sight.”

The State Department notes that millions of U.S. citizens safely visit Mexico every year. But it also says Mexico’s ongoing violence and security concerns pose “serious risks” for U.S. citizens, and urges travelers to take precautions.

“To reduce risk, you are strongly urged to travel only during daylight hours throughout Mexico, to avoid isolated roads and to use toll roads whenever possible,” the advisory says.

Americans with connections to Mexico had mixed reactions to the latest assessment of travel south of the border.

Friday’s warning was “a major red flag” and “quite a bit more expansive” than past alerts, said Kathleen Fairfax, vice president for global education at Arizona State University.

“We don’t have armored cars like the government does,” said Fairfax, who noted that school officials will meet this week to discuss how the new guidelines might affect study-abroad trips.

But reports of violence can be overblown, the leader of an expatriate group in Mexico said, describing his trip last month to a butterfly sanctuary in Michoacan, a stronghold of Mexico’s La Familia cartel.

“I felt totally safe there. We had no problem at all. You have to be mindful of what’s going on, but there aren’t people attacking anybody, especially expats,” Howard Feldstein said.

The 69-year-old retired small-business owner from Denver, Colorado, heads the Lake Chapala Society, an expatriate community center in the Mexican state of Jalisco with more than 3,000 members. The country remains a “great place to retire,” he said, despite security concerns.

“Life goes on. The people that live here do not live in fear of moving around freely. We’re just, perhaps, more cautious,” he said.

Mexico’s government has not issued an official response to the latest U.S. alert.

Tourism officials have repeatedly stressed that violence occurs mostly in areas along the border that are far from Mexico’s popular landmarks and beaches.

“We should not take the issue out of context,” Rodolfo Lopez Negrete, chief operating officer of the Mexico Tourism Board, said in a recent interview. “The distances are very, very great. You wouldn’t stop going to New York because of a problem in Dallas.”

But Burton, of Stratfor, said the latest U.S. State Department alert shows “the unpredictability of where this violence could happen next.”

“The fear is that as you are traveling the highways inside Mexico, that you could be victimized in some sort of roving roadblock,” he said.

Blocking major thoroughfares to prevent police and military reinforcements from arriving has become an increasingly common tactic employed by drug gangs across Mexico.

The State Department advisory warns of carjacking and highway robberies and notes, “Violence along Mexican roads and highways is a particular concern in the northern border region.”

Drug cartel members blocked roads with hijacked vehicles in the border states of Nuevo Leon and Tamaulipas over two days in March. During clashes with federal police in December, suspected members of La Familia set trucks and buses ablaze on highways in Michoacan.

Mexican government figures indicate more than 34,600 people have been killed in drug-related violence in Mexico since President Felipe Calderon announced a crackdown on cartels in December 2006.

The number of U.S. citizens killed in Mexico increased from 35 in 2007 to 111 in 2010, the State Department said.

More than a third of the 2010 reported slayings of U.S. citizens occurred in the border cities of Ciudad Juarez and Tijuana, according to the State Department.

“There is no evidence that U.S. tourists have been targeted by criminal elements due to their citizenship. Nonetheless, while in Mexico you should be aware of your surroundings at all times and exercise particular caution in unfamiliar areas,” the alert says.

Friday’s warning also specifies dangers and advises against nonessential travel in parts of the states of Durango, Chihuahua, Coahuila, Jalisco, San Luis Potosi, Sinaloa, Sonora and Zacatecas.

Travelers should exercise caution visiting parts of Baja California, Guerrero, Nayarit and Nuevo Leon, the advisory says.

30 Murdered In Resort Town Of Acapulco In Less Than A Week

A group of armed men burst into a bar early Saturday in the Mexican resort city of Acapulco and began shooting, leaving 10 men dead and four wounded, officials said.

The Public Safety Secretariat of Guerrero state, where Acapulco is located, said the attack occurred at a bar located in the city’s Las Cruces neighborhood, where several shootouts have occurred and bodies have been dumped in recent days in actions attributed to organized crime.

Initial reports indicate that a group of men armed with rifles entered the bar in the wee hours of Saturday and began firing at those inside.

Local authorities said the victims were between the ages of 25 and 45, most of whom had suffered gunshot wounds in the back or head, authorities said without indicating a possible motive.

At least 30 people have been murdered in Acapulco in less than a week, including three children under the age of 10. On Wednesday, a 4-year-old girl with a gunshot wound in the chest and her mother were found slain in the back of a vehicle.

The Gulf, Beltran Leyva and Cartel Independiente de Acapulco drug mobs have been battling for control of that Pacific coast city, while in recent weeks messages supposedly signed by Sinaloa cartel hit men have been left alongside corpses.

The early Saturday morning attack came at a time when hundreds of thousands of travelers are heading to different tourist resorts in Mexico, including Acapulco, for a three-day holiday weekend.

The violence in Acapulco has dissuaded many tourists, mainly foreigners, from heading to that resort city, with the number of U.S. spring breakers visiting this year down sharply.

Tom Costello is the CEO, Partner & Co-Founder of Groups International, a company that provides marketing, consultative services, and technology solutions to the group and leisure travel markets.  Connect with him on TwitterLinkedIn, and Facebook or contact him by email.