Tourism and Travel Questions for Mexico After Safety Threats

**Originally posted on February 9, 2013 by Los Angeles Times**

MEXICO CITY — You might be hard-pressed to find the word “Mexico” in some of the advertising for tourist resorts in Mexico.

Brands like “Riviera Maya” often eclipse the name of the country where those lush beaches are located.

As deadly violence that has haunted Mexico for years threatens tourist zones, government officials and trade executives are scrambling for ways to minimize damage to an industry that is a top income-earner and employer.

The rapes last week of six Spanish women vacationing in Acapulco have heightened fear and called into question the government’s ability to control crime and attract foreign visitors. It didn’t help that about the same time, Mexico’s minister of tourism was in, of all places, Spain, attempting to promote tourism. “This is Mexico’s moment,” was her theme.

Despite its many problems, including a flu epidemic in 2009, beach-ravaging storms and the global economic crisis — in addition to the violence that has claimed an estimated 70,000 lives since December 2006 — Mexico has managed to sustain a fairly robust tourism industry. The government that left office Dec. 1 said it had increased the number of international visitors during its six-year term by more than 20% from the previous six years.

But revenue has yet to rebound to the all-time high of nearly $13.4 billion reached in 2008, according to statistics published by the Tourism Ministry. Last year, the total was estimated at a little more than $11 billion, although final numbers were not available. Tourism is Mexico’s third top source of income, after oil and remittances.

The number of tourists from the United States, by far the largest single source, has slipped slightly; but Mexico has attempted to make up for that by focusing on countries like Russia and China.

Perhaps most telling is that the Americans who still come are traveling to a shrinking vacationland.

Cruise lines eliminated Mazatlan as a port of call about two years ago, according to industry specialists. Long a cosmopolitan port with wide beaches and a picturesque historic center, and a resort favored by Ronald Reagan, Mazatlan is in the state of Sinaloa, home to Mexico’s largest drug cartel. Rival gangs are now battling for control of the city, with shootouts and other violence escalating.

“We went from half a million visitors from cruise ships annually, to zero. Practically overnight,” said Gabriel Tostado Bastidas, a Mazatlan native and director in Mexico of Hospitality Advance International, an industry consulting firm. “It has been devastating.”

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