NEW YORK CITY -- Travel Agent was among the media that the Mexico Tourism Board invited for a roundtable discussion focused on clearing the country's name. Since the U.S. Department of State renewed a travel alert to Mexico in late February due to a string of violence near the U.S.-bordering towns, the destination has been the focus of negative press, all painting Mexico as an unsafe environment for vacationers.
Carlos Behnsen, deputy director, and Eduardo Chaillo, director of strategic business unit U.S/Canada, were among a panel formed to say otherwise. The Board’s two main responses to this public relations nightmare was that none of these crimes involved tourists and all of them occurred between 1,500 – 2,000 miles away from Mexico’s main tourist destinations. The five municipalities that have been deemed hot zones for drug-related violence – Tijuana, Nogales, Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua and Culiacan – are as far away from tourist destinations like the Riviera Maya as Las Vegas is to New York City, Behnsen says. Behnsen says tourism hasn't suffered much in Mexico, except for the areas where the violence has occurred, which only make up about five percent of the entire country’s total tourism numbers. Tourism to those municipalities dropped about 25 percent since the news first broke, Behnsen says.
“We don't deny that we have incidences in certain regions of Mexico," Behnsen says. “But we are trying to make clear that they are nowhere near our main tourist areas.”
Behnsen pointed to some inaccurate coverage of the news which portrayed Cancun as a hot spot for violence. In fact, Elyse Elkins of Travel Impressions says bookings to Mexico “slowed down a bit” after the reports began to surface. “I wouldn’t say we dropped, but we did stop seeing that incline that we were seeing,” Elkins says, “and we think that’s because of the misconception that was out there.”
Chaillo says that the Board, along with the government, will continue to be proactive in defending Mexico and has a plan to launch a collaborative campaign that will use testimonials from Americans living in Mexico as well as testimonials from Mexican celebrities, all spreading the word that the country is a safe place for travel.
Read more about recent developments in travel to Mexico in our current cover story— Mexico: Despite Violence, Still Safe.