When the US Department of State released a spring break travel advisory on March 13 this year, warning travellers to take extra caution when visiting Mexico, the message rippled wide and fast. Broadcast news disseminated scary stories of illegal drugs and gang crime as reasons to reconsider vacation plans.
In reality, no new travel advisories to Mexico have been issued by the State Department since last October, in which the updates to the existing warning related to additional public-health information are not a crime. The spring break alert, meanwhile, asks visitors to be mindful of several factors&mdashthe list includes 10 points ranging from illegal drug activity to counterfeit medication to the risk of drowning. On crime, it asks tourists to &ldquoexercise increased caution in the downtown areas of popular spring break locations including Cancún, Playa del Carmen and Tulum, especially after dark,&rdquo on the basis that &ldquocrime, including violent crime, can occur anywhere in Mexico, including in popular tourist destinations.&rdquo Most of Mexico remains at a Level 2 warning, which is the same that applies to countries like France, Spain, Italy and more
Why Warnings Happen
Mexico is a big, varied country. The most common tourist locations in the states of Quintana Roo (Cancún, Tulum, Playa del Carmen) and Baja California Sur (Los Cabos) are currently ranked by the US State Department at a standard Level 2 the states of Oaxaca and Mexico City are also categorised at that level. While only a few destinations globally are considered Level 1&mdashmeaning travellers should &ldquoexercise normal precautions&rdquo&mdashtwo Mexican states indeed qualify as such Yucatán and Campeche. You might visit the former if you&rsquore planning a trip to Mérida. Seven of Mexico&rsquos 32 states are classified as Level 3&mdash&ldquoreconsider travel&rdquo&mdashwhile six are listed under the US State Department&rsquos Level 4 warning&mdash&ldquodo not travel.&rdquo The department attributes those 13 state designations to widespread criminal activity and kidnapping risks. (Matamoros is located in Tamaulipas, one of the Level 4 states.)
In the past month, Google has seen a 200 per cent spike in people asking &ldquoIs it safe to travel to Cancún now&rdquo And in the week following the early March incident in Matamoros, searches for Mexico travel ideas declined in popularity by 75 per cent, according to insights on Google Trends. Since then, they have continued to decline. It&rsquos one way to quantify the effect hard news can have on the tourism economy, which accounts for 8.8 per cent of jobs in Mexico and represents roughly 8 per cent of the country&rsquos gross domestic product, according to government figures.
Calculating the impact on business is complicated. We can&rsquot measure the loss of people who never called, who just decided to go to Yosemite, Florida, or the Caribbean instead. (Even many popular Caribbean destinations are also considered Level 2, including the Bahamas, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and the Turks and Caicos Islands.)
The Less Concerned
Other travel advisers report that their clients are undeterred. &ldquoI think people are over sensationalism,&rdquo says Jack Ezon, the travel agency Embark Beyond co-founder. Before, he&rsquod have expected to be busy fielding calls about safety concerns and tallying up the cancellations. Ezon says, &ldquoWe haven&rsquot seen anything, not a single hesitation.&rdquo The same is true, he adds, in Paris, Israel and Turkey, where political instability and earthquakes have made headlines. Alyson Nash, a travel designer with Cloud 10, a Virtuoso-affiliated agency, says she&rsquos taken plenty of calls from travellers who&rsquove kept Mexico on their short lists&mdashparticularly for year-end holiday travel. She says crime registers only as an occasional concern, outweighed by inflation and increases in taxes, room rates and fees.
Cover photo credit Shutterstock
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