ASTA Talks Agents’ “Duty to Warn” on Mexico and Travel Safety

Tulum Ruins Riviera Maya
Tulum and the Riviera Maya are currently rated Level 2: Exercise Increased Caution out of a possible four by the State Department. // Photo by gappino/iStock/GettyImagesPlus/GettyImages

With a story making the rounds accusing travel agents of not sharing potential risks regarding travel to Mexico, Travel Agent reached out to the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) to learn more about what agents’ “duty to warn” is when it comes to destinations with potential safety issues.

“While the appropriate course of action depends on the specific circumstances, as a general matter agents are obliged to disclose information that is ‘material’ to their clients' travel plans,” Eben Peck, executive vice president, advocacy for ASTA, tells Travel Agent. “In our view, ‘material’ means information that if known to the client would be reasonably likely to influence the traveler's decision with respect to where, when, or how to travel.”

Peck said that agents who do wish to make a specific disclosure concerning the recent reports should refer their clients to objective third-party sources of information, such as the State Department.

“We are aware of these troubling reports and are reviewing and updating our member guidance, while noting that these negative experiences are certainly the exception to the rule for the more than 30 million Americans visiting Mexico each year,” Peck said. “Our standing advice to consumers is to consult with their trusted travel advisor, who is equipped with up-to-date resources from ASTA, the State Department and other governmental entities and trained to provide the individual support and guidance to help travelers make educated decisions about where to travel. Ultimately, the decision to travel or not travel to a particular destination is up to the individual traveler, as each person has their own level of risk tolerance.”

This week the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, which has been investigating Mexico travel safety for several months, published a new article sharing a number of tragic incidents in which tourists from the United States and Canada blacked out after drinking or were robbed, sexually assaulted or died at all-inclusive luxury resorts and tourist areas in Mexico. The report argues that travel agents and major tour operators like Apple Vacations should have informed clients of these potential risks under “duty to inform” or “duty to warn” case law, which establishes that purveyors of travel must inform clients about a variety of conditions in travel destinations or potentially be held liable.

That article followed another report by the same newspaper last summer, which contained allegations that resorts in Playa del Carmen and Cancun were serving tainted alcohol and came about as the result of an investigation into the death of a 20-year-old woman at the Iberostar Paraiso del Mar. The allegations were subsequently picked up by a number of major consumer news outlets, after which the State Department added the allegations to the Safety and Security section of its Mexico country page.

That information has since been removed following a test by the government of Mexico that found no indication of tainted alcohol at the resort and the rollout of a new, four-tier system of travel advisories. Mexico is currently rated by the State Department as Level 2: Exercise Increased Caution, due to the risk of violent crime like homicide, kidnapping, carjacking and robbery. A Level 2 ranking means that travelers should be “aware of heightened risks to safety and security” within the destination. That puts it in the same overall ranking as other popular tourist destinations for travelers from the United States, including the United Kingdom, France and Italy. Specific areas within Mexico have been issued higher Level 3 or Level 4 advisories, but these do not include many tourist areas, including Playa del Carmen and Cancun.

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