A new investigation published by the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel blames travel agents, as well as a number of major tour operators and resort companies, for failing to “share the risks” with clients booking travel to Mexico resorts.
The Journal-Sentinel report shares 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.
“If you’re going to an area that is crime infested, the agent needs to say ‘You need to beware,’” Ken Whitman, senior program manager with Aon, an insurance provider for travel-related companies, told the Journal-Sentinel.
“Unfortunately, recent coverage has inaccurately characterized the extent of the problem in Mexico, unfairly dramatizing the risks to travelers, and disparaging the many safeguards that the Mexico tourism industry, our resort partners and our company have in place to assure traveler safety,” a spokesperson for Apple Vacations tells Travel Agent. “At the same time, we believe that any injury is one too many, and we continue to work hard to identify and properly address the limited number of issues that inevitably arise.”
Apple Vacations said that it does feature a link on its website to the U.S. State Department’s travel advisories, the standard for informing U.S. travelers about safety concerns in destinations worldwide, and that it encourages travelers to review the travel advisories for the countries that they plan to visit.
“It is important to note that the U.S. State Department currently lists the primary tourist areas in Mexico in the same classification as a significant number of countries that are among the most common destinations for American travel, including United Kingdom, Denmark, Belgium and Germany,” Apple Vacations said.
“We firmly believe a constructive approach is the right way to problem solve in all countries with which we partner and are committed to doing our part as an industry leader to make continued progress on this issue,” the company said.
The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel has been investigating potential safety issues at resorts in Mexico for some time, most famously with last summer’s report containing allegations that resorts in Playa del Carmen and Cancun were serving tainted alcohol. That report was prompted by an incident in which a 20-year-old woman was found unconscious in a pool at the Iberostar Paraiso del Mar and later died. Subsequent investigations by an attorney hired by her family and the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel uncovered reports of other travelers who claimed that they had experienced sickness, blackouts and injuries after drinking at resorts in the area. The story was picked up by a number of other consumer media outlets, both in print and on television, over the next few months.
Following the reports in consumer media, the Sate Department updated the Safety and Security section of its Mexico country page to alert travelers to the allegations. The State Department advised travelers to drink in moderation and seek medical attention if they feel ill. That information has since been taken down.
Representatives of major resorts Travel Agent spoke with at the time said that their resorts maintain high levels of food and alcohol safety. Common safety precautions include purchasing liquor in sealed containers, regular audits of safety and sanitary procedures, and monitoring of staff and public areas through security cameras. Representatives of Iberostar Hotels & Resorts also said at the time that the company plans to roll out additional security cameras in the building interiors, pool areas and outside bars in the Parais Complex.
A later test by the government of Mexico found no indication of tainted alcohol at the resort that prompted the first Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel story. Lab tests of alcoholic beverages served at the resort were found to be normal, containing no adulterants, including taurine products that are commonly found in energy drinks.
In terms of official safety information, Mexico is officially rated as Level 2: Exercise Increased Caution, on the State Department’s new four-tier travel advisory system, 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 system was launched in January as part of an effort to provide more information regarding potential safety issues in destinations than the previous system of Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts. It ranges from Level 1: Exercise Normal Precautions, to Level 3: Reconsider Travel and Level 4: Do Not Travel. A bit of context: At Level 2, Mexico shares the same overall ranking as other popular tourist destinations for travelers from the United States, including the United Kingdom, France and Italy.
Within Mexico, however, there are specific areas that have a more severe travel advisory ranking. The following states have the highest, at Level 4: Do Not Travel: Colima; Guerrero, including Acapulco; Michoacán; Sinaloa; and Tamaulipas. While U.S. government employees are prohibited from traveling in most areas with a Level 4 advisory, they are permitted to travel in Mazatlan’s Zona Dorada, or historic town center, the city of Los Mochis and Port Topolobampo, as well as direct routes to and from these locations and the airport or cruise ship terminal.
A number of areas also have a ranking of Level 3: Reconsider Travel, which advises travelers to avoid a destination “due to serious risks to safety and security.” These include the states of Chihuahua, Coahuila, Durango, Estado de Mexico, Jalisco, Morelos, Nayarit, Nuevo Leon, San Luis Potosi, Sonora and Zacatecas. As with the areas with Level 4 advisories, there are certain areas within these states where government employees aren’t prohibited from traveling. These include the tourist areas of Guadalajara, Puerto Vallarta, Chapala and Ajijic, as well as Riviera Nayarit, Santa Maria del Oro and Xalisco.