A robbery anywhere in Mexico is never good public relations for a country that has been hammered with reports of violence ever since 2006 when President Felipe Calderon waged war against drug lords and corrupt police officers.
But as far as timing goes, Puerto Vallarta is perhaps the last Mexican destination anyone in the tourism industry wanted to see as the site for a tourism-related crime.
That was the case last week when 22 passengers from Carnival Splendor were robbed at gunpoint while on a motorcoach ride back from a nature jungle trek site at El Nogalito.
The passengers, none of whom were injured, had been spending a day ashore on a line-sponsored shore excursion during the ship's call at Puerto Vallarta. The armed, hooded gunman stopped the coach about 5 p.m., stealing jewelry, cameras, watches, money and other valuables. They then fled into the countryside.
“You need to understand that this was unfortunate and extremely rare to have this incident in (Puerto Vallarta),” Alfonso Sumano, director of tourism, North America for the Mexico Tourism Board, told Travel Agent Tuesday. “Right after the incident was reported, we met with the three levels of government – federal, state and local authorities – and this is also the first time we are coordinating efforts with the U.S. consulate down there. Our number one priority is keeping our visitors safe. We are coordinating efforts and there is also still an ongoing investigation to bring the people who did this to justice.”
The timing is especially bad for three reasons. The first is that Puerto Vallarta is one of two destinations (along with Rivera Nayarit) that will be hosting Mexico’s most important tradeshow, Tianguis Turistico, from March 25-28.
“This is the most important tradeshow for Mexico, so the timing is not good, but it is a positive that will be able to bring all of our industry partners to this beautiful destination so they can see for themselves how safe it is,” he says. “Or you can just ask the thousands and thousands of people coming back from Mexico every week. Just ask your friends or your family or anyone who has gone to Mexico recently. They will tell you how safe it is.”
The second reason is that a refreshed travel warning was recently released earlier this month by the Department of State with Puerto Vallarta cited as one of the destination deemed safe by State officials. One can only wonder now if that warning will perhaps be refreshed yet again to include Puerto Vallarta as one of the destinations clients should now show increased caution in.
However, although the warning may need yet another update, Sumano did tell Travel Agent that the recent warning issued by the State has been dramatically more precise than previous warnings, which basically lumped the safe and unsafe areas of the country together.
“A travel warning is never a positive thing, but at least this one was very precise,” he says. "If you are traveling to Los Angeles and there is a crime in New York, you are not going to cancel your trip. So, letting people know exactly where in Mexico is safe and exactly where there is a risk, is very important.”
Finally, the third reason an incident in Puerto Vallarta is particularly damaging is that the destination was the center of a debate last year between Mexico officials and major cruise lines who opted to suspend calls to the destination, along with Mazatalan, due to safety issues. Are there concerns that major cruise lines will consider suspending calls to Puerto Vallarta yet again?
“When they returned to these destinations this year, they had modified itineraries,” Sumano says. “But I don’t think this will have any further affect on the itineraries since people really have to understand how rare this is. Ask anyone you know who has been to Puerto Vallarta and they will tell you what a beautiful safe place it really is.”