Opinion: Cancun Tourism Won’t Suffer Despite Latest Warning From Texas

For the second straight year, the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) has issued a travel warning to Mexico for college students considering spending their spring break there.

And for the second straight year, the Mexico Tourism Board is not pleased about it, but, in our opinion, shouldn’t worry about it either.

During my more than five years as Travel Agent’s Mexico expert, I can tell you that keeping college students away from Cancun is harder than keep an agent away from a bonus commission, especially when Cancun is just as safe - if not way safer - than it ever was.

Sure, the culture of Cancun has changed since my back-to-back Spring Break vacations there in the late ‘90s. In fact, in 2005 Hurricane Wilma did a pretty good job in erasing a lot of the Spring Break-friendly resorts, aka resorts that didn’t mind a cluster of rowdy teenagers cramming into one room and breaking a piece of a furniture two.

The storm created so much damage to the resorts catering to Spring Breakers that they were forced to invest millions of dollars just to stay open. And when you invest that kind of money, you start getting picky about who you let in the door.

Ever since that, I’ve noticed more and more affluent families making there way to the now four-and-five-star resorts that took over the destination’s famed hotel district; I’ve heard tourism officials proclaim the death of the Spring Break traveler in Cancun and I’ve seen Spring Break staples, like the old MTV hangout, Phat Tuesdays, close its doors.

But although the volume changed, Spring Breakers were still making there way to the resorts.

The Cancun scene of the ‘90s that I enjoyed – and could barely remember (thank God there was no Facebook back then)- is not entirely extinct. The evidence can be found at a resort I stayed at in January– The Grand Oasis Cancun. There is a still a heavy market for younger, party-going guests who want to take part in poolside games, eat chicken fingers by the dozens and flirt with anything with a pulse.

In fact, the resort was pretty packed with guests (we were told these were students traveling in their winter recess) looking to dance the night away without leaving the resort. So business did not appear to be a problem.

For travel snobs like myself, this resort may not be a good fit. It’s loud, it’s cheap and full of Jersey Shore wannabes. But if your clients are into this and they are strapped for cash, this is the resort for them. In fact, rates here start at around $70. For the type of market this resort is looking to attract, it does a very good job.

But more importantly, Grand Oasis Cancun serves as a great example that although Cancun Spring Breakers have seriously dropped in numbers, there will also be a place for them in this legendary party city.

Also, don’t forget that the most of the original spring breakers who put Cancun on the map in the late ‘70s are now most likely mothers and fathers taking their children on family holidays. Perhaps a deluded trip down memory lane sounds like a great family retreat for these clients.

Whatever the reason is, Spring Break in Cancun may never reach the height it hit in the late ‘90s, but I refuse to believe that the Spring Break clients aren’t going anymore. And I refuse to believe the destination doesn’t welcome it, especially during a time in which Mexico is looking for any heads to fill the beds. Whether it’s a past, present or future Spring Breaker, the Spring Break client is essentially responsible for putting Cancun on the map and also for keeping the destination afloat during some of the country’s toughest times.

As far as the latest warning goes, according to MyFoxAustin.com, the Texas DPS has issued a travel warning to college students on spring break, urging them not to travel to Mexico. Authorities are pointing to several recent incidents of drug-related violence in the country, including the murders of a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent and two El Paso boys last month.

Since last year’s warning, the Mexico Tourism Board has had several meetings with Texas DPS officials with hopes of convincing them that the country was a safe place for spring breakers to travel to. Last year’s warning, however, was geared specifically toward Cancun while this year’s warning concentrates on the entire country.

So how many incidents were reported from last year's Spring Break season?

Not one.

So, how much did last year’s warning hurt Cancun tourism?

Not at all.

In 2011, Cancun recieved 1,940,671 international visitors, which was up about 3 percent from 2010. In fact, Cancun's numbers have increased every year since 2009, the year of the economic downturn impacted travel across the globe.

In fact, Travel Agent was on hand Monday for Vacation.com and Travel Leaders Group’s “Think Big” 2012 news conference, a state-of-the-company address where both the agency and its travel network shared with media some ongoing trends in the industry as well as an update on its growing products.

One of the most revealing trends with regards to Vacation.com’s tourism product was a surprising, year-to-year upswing in Mexico business despite the negative publicity, including a refreshed travel warning there back in February, that has been eating away at the country.

“If you didn’t look at these numbers or didn’t know about these numbers, I’m sure most of you would have just thought that Mexico’s numbers tanked again,” said Stephen McGillivray, chief marketing officer for the Travel Leaders Group. “ But the numbers haven’t tanked. And we think that’s a testament to agents. They are addressing clients' concerns and our members are really handling the objections a client has to a destination.”

John Lovell, president of Vacation.com, says most of the “double-digit” spike in Mexico business could be traced to the Riviera Maya. Specifically, Cancun and Cozumel have been the two hottest destinations to come out of the Riviera Maya region.

“Lets not forget that this has something to do with value as well,” McGillivray says. “Mexico has great value with its all-inclusives. This is, after all, where you’ll find some of the greatest all inclusive in the world.”

Visit www.visitmexico.com and www.cancun.travel.