|Caution key in Mexico
Mention going to Mexico and the reaction is predictable: "Is it safe?"
Crime was the concern most frequently raised by American and Canadian media attending Tianguis Turistico, a huge Mexican travel trade show, held last month in Puerto Vallarta and Riviera Nayarit.
Mexico's tourism bigwigs must have known it was coming.
They repeatedly appealed for the media to put the matter into context, to be more accurate and to not smear the whole country with the same brush.
So here goes:
Context: An average of 2.1 Canadians out of every 100,000 who visited Mexico from 2005 to 2009 were violently assaulted or killed. The average for the Dominican Republic was 1.6, for Cuba 1.5. Jamaica's average was 3.6.
Accuracy: When 22 cruise ship passengers were robbed during a shore excursion in Mexico in February, one major U.S.TVnetwork said it happened on a bus. In fact, they were hiking a nature trail. One network placed the incident "near" Puerto Vallarta, another "in" Puerto Vallarta? They did agree on one thing: A gang of hooded gunmen was involved.
That, too, was wrong, says Rodolfo Lopez-Negrete, the Mexico Tourism Board's chief operating officer. It was a lone bandido.
Smearing the country with the same brush: The state of Texas, for the third year in a row, warned residents not to travel to Mexico during the spring break season. "Drug cartel violence and other criminal activity are a safety threat even in resort areas," it said.
Lopez-Negrete asked that travel alerts be specific, not generic, and that maps be used to show where incidents have occurred in relation to popular vacation spots. Not an unreasonable request. (If a Canadian was gunned down in Detroit, a warning against visiting the U.S. would be absurd).
The vicious attack on a Calgary woman in her Mazatlan resort hotel in January was the most recent incident to hit the headlines.
It came up at a press conference called by Carlos Beldegue, president of El Cid Resorts and vice-president of the Mazatlan Hotel Association.
Beldegue's report that the woman "was found naked at 4 a.m. in an elevator," drew amused twitters from some of the American writers. (The Mexican man charged with the assault supposedly told police the victim entered the elevator unclothed).
I jumped in and pointed out the attack was so savage the woman would require reconstructive surgery on her face, hardly something to joke about.
So, back to the key question: Is Mexico safe?
* Rodrigo Esponda, Mexico Tourism Board director in Toronto, says Canadians "shouldn't be concerned" about security. The latest statistics suggest most Canadians aren't -- 1.56 million visited Mexico in 2011, a number Esponda says has doubled in five years.
* Our Department of Foreign Affairs' most recent advisory reads, in part: " . . . Due to high levels of organized crime and urban violence, Canadians should exercise extreme caution in the states of Guerrero (including Acapulco), Nayarit, Michoacan and Veracruz. The coastal area of Southern Nayarit (from Nuevo Vallarta to La Penita de Jaltemba), a popular destination among Canadians, remains relatively safe. However, travel outside the tourist area requires extra precaution." (Acapulco has all but vanished from the major Canadian tour operators' catalogues).
* Mazatlan's Beldegue says 9,000 Americans and Canadians live there at least six months of the year and that their number is increasing by 25% a year. Negotiations are underway with Air Transat to fly there from Eastern Canada.
* Tom Stewart, a former Londoner who divides his time between Muskoka and Mazatlan, said in a recent e-mail: "One of the things I like about Mazatlan . . . is that it is not just a tourist city it is also a working city with a large brewery (reminds of Labatt) and one of the largest shrimp and tuna fishing fleets.
+ Wexico http://news.wexico.com/issues/26apr2012/caution-key-in-mexico.htm
"Are their problems here in Mazatlan? Sure, but I haven't changed my lifestyle . . . I try to be aware of my surroundings and stay away from places that may put one a risk. I think this is prudent no matter where one travels."
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