Violent crime is haunting Mexico's tourism

Despite a record number of visitors last year, headline-grabbing incidents threaten the country's reputation as a top travel destination.

By Bruce Kennedy Mar 21, 2013 3:11PM

Tourists take a walk on Medano Beach, May 11, 2012, in Cabo San Lucas, Baja California, Mexico (© PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/GettyImages)Mexico's multibillion-dollar tourism industry is getting mixed signals. Economic recovery in the U.S. means more Americans are planning trips south of the border. But high-profile crimes and an overall perception of widespread violence have apparently hurt Mexico's reputation as an international travel spot. That's particularly damaging because tourism is the country's third-largest source of foreign income after petroleum and overseas remittances.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Mexico expects the number of foreign visitors it hosted in 2012 to reach a record 24.7 million. But the U.N. World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) says Mexico may soon fall from its coveted position among the world's top 10 tourist destinations.

Mexican government data quoted by the Associated Press says the number of cruise ships visiting Mexico last year fell by 3%, compared to a year earlier -- and by more than 15% for the past two years. Tourism along the country's northern border region is also down significantly, off 5.3% in 2012.

Mexican tourism officials say they cannot verify the UNWTO figures, but some travel industry analysts believe tourists are being scared off by the seemingly constant reports of violence in the country.

Consider these headline-grabbing incidents: Last spring, 22 passengers from a Carnival (CCL) cruise ship were robbed at gunpoint on a sightseeing bus outside the Pacific Coast town of Puerto Vallarta. Six Spanish tourists were raped by masked gunmen last month in the resort of Acapulco, which prompted the Spanish government to issue a travel alert for Mexico. And just last week, at least seven people were killed in a shooting at a bar on the outskirts of the Cancún resort area on the eastern Yucatán peninsula.

"It doesn't matter if Mexico is safe or not because the perception is they are not," Carl Winston, director of the school of hospitality and tourism at San Diego State University, told the LA Times in February.

The U.S. State Department still has a travel warning on its website for American citizens planning trips to Mexico. But Commerce Department figures say Mexico remains the top international destination for U.S. tourists.

And the Dallas Morning News reports hotel occupancy rates are currently at 87% to 90% along the "Mayan Rivera" -- as U.S. college students pour into the Yucatán peninsula area around Cancún for spring break festivities.

"History has played out, and there haven't been a lot of tourists caught up in the unfortunate, tragic events, especially not here," James Batt, a Texas native and current operations manager of a luxury resort near Cancún, told the newspaper. "As the Dow Jones goes up, so does tourism. We’re seeing that now. I also think more tourists in general, and particularly Texans, are feeling comfortable traveling to Mexico again."

The country's tourism industry is likely hoping he's right.

More on moneyNOW

Mar 21, 2013 5:05PM

I would not vacation in Mexico for free! I will not even board a cruise ship that stops there.

Crime might pay in some regards but not in this one. I care too much about my family to take the risk.

Mar 21, 2013 4:50PM
If this "economic recovery" continues in the direction it's going, Americans will be sneaking across the border into Mexico.... 
Mar 21, 2013 5:04PM
No doubt.....except this is how it's been for over 10 years!  The first thing people say when you mention going to Mexico is "no thanks, I think I'll keep my head right where it's at".  I haven't been down for 12 years.  What a shame!  If that country ever pulls its head out, they could really be a rising star.......while the U.S. continues to stagnate.
Mar 21, 2013 6:29PM

In the 60s and then again in the 80s...There were many places to go see and enjoy, even if only just into Border Towns...That has all changed, but I haven't been in a long time...So not much of a judge.

Only go by Stories and the Media...

And we really are not interested in going Back... 

Mar 21, 2013 9:23PM
IF you read this article, you'd be a fool to vacation in Mexico unless you don't want to live.  None of those who lost their lives expected this to happen, but it should be expected with crime so rampant there now and for some time.  Mexico has lots of clean-up to do before it can expect anything different as to tourism.  Maybe those who cover for the criminals believe it's more important to allow drugs and other crime to run rampant than to get tourism back to where it used to be..  There are so many fabulous places to visit, even within the United States, without leaving it's borders.. 

Walked three blocks into a small border town, in Mexico about two weeks ago, for dental work.

Saved about five hundred dollars, vs. a US dentist, only reason I went into Mexico. Have been seeing that same dentist for several years, and always does satisfactory work.

Mar 22, 2013 11:52AM
Aside from drugs the next biggest business is kidnapping in Mexico
Mar 21, 2013 11:21PM
Wouldn't set foot in any country that had the reports of violence against tourists like the ones pouring out of this country and whose very own citizens risk life and limb to escape every single day of every single year. Some really nice European visitors to the USA I became acquainted with told me they were taking a trip to Mexico while they were over here and were so excited. I silently hoped for their sake all would go well. It didn't, it was a nightmare and now they know what we Americans know, stay far far away from Mexico!
Just measure the number of properties sold to "Americans", either direct or indirect and you will see how scared the Northern neighbors are getting. Time to bring the signal of American buying power weakening over time may help to the Mexican  people to solve their crime issues..

Mar 23, 2013 4:48PM
I'll pay extra and go to Hawaii. If I was on the east coast I'd pick Jamaica instead.
Jul 19, 2013 4:22PM
"...tourism is the country's third-largest source of foreign income after petroleum and overseas remittances."     LOL  That's according to They don't mention narcotics and kidnapping. And regarding the kind words at the end of the article --what would you expect the manager of a resort down there to say?!
Mar 22, 2013 9:41AM

traveled to mx for last 40 yrs and have had little trouble.  it is so convenient that it outweighs the fears.

Mar 26, 2013 8:48AM
My husband and I are US citizens and we live in Puerto Vallarta and it is far safer than going to a theater in the US! EVERY country has crime.  The US is flat broke. They need the US tourist dollars to stay in the US.  It's a shame the Government and media makes you afraid to leave your homes. The terrorists have won.  You'll never see the beauty or experience the culture of this country or the kindness of the people.  Don't be afraid to live. 
Mar 22, 2013 12:39AM
Some really nice European visitors to the USA I became acquainted with told me they were taking a trip to Mexico while they were over here and were so excited. I silently hoped for their sake all would go well.
<a href="">Thanks</a>
Mar 22, 2013 1:43PM
I have to go to Mexico for family in a couple of months ,  and hearing news like this is just frightening.
Mar 22, 2013 11:48AM
and you wonder why the population is leaving Mexico but the new trend is sending their teen age children over to take advantage of the Obama mandate because nobody is checking how long they have been here and can't really prove it. Border Patrol will confirm this.
Mar 21, 2013 8:30PM

Yeah, close Family in Arizona for winter,,,,They cross over and get cheap prescriptions every year..

Stock up, but we seldom have them pick up for us..

Mar 23, 2013 6:22AM
we should bomb mexico and every other latin american country
Mar 23, 2013 3:24PM
Currently living in Puerto Vallarta..small town just north actually!  Every where I go has been keep up the bad advertising because the Canadians are having a ball down here.  Beautiful beaches just waiting for those who are in charge of their own lives.  Fear is your greatest enemy, caution in travel always.  Use your head and don't go it alone at night!  By the way I drove down from Phoenix, lots of Pemex stations and motels now.  So start planning your next Mexican vacation.. Provecho!
Traveling to Mexico for last 12 years!
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