Mexico Tourism and Safety Initiatives

Recently, the US State Department issued an updated travel advisory for Mexico.  They upgraded warnings for Americans considering travel to two states which include the popular destinations of Cancun (Quintana Roo) and Cabos San Lucas (Baja California Sur).  Officials are concerned about increasingly dangerous activities of criminal organizations in the areas, especially along the Caribbean coast.

“Gun battles between rival criminal organizations or with Mexican authorities have taken place on streets in public places during broad daylight,” the advisory from the State Department said.

In the State of Quintana Roo, home of popular destinations Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and Cozumel, Mexican government statistics have shown an increase in homicide rates this year compared to 2016.

“While most of these homicides appeared to be targeted criminal organization assassinations, turf battles between criminal groups have resulted in violent crime in areas frequented by American citizens,” the advisory says of Quintana Roo. “Shooting incidents, in which innocent bystanders have been injured or killed, have occurred.”

In addition, the State of Baja California Sur was added to the list of states in Mexico within the US States Department’s updated travel advisory with upgraded warnings.  A warning for Baja California Sur, which includes Los Cabos, said criminal activity and violence is occurring throughout the state.  “Exercise caution as Baja California Sur continues to experience a high rate of homicides,” officials warned.  In Cabos San Lucas, the government is building a new Federal police base to help support the local authorities and adding more security personnel to the state.  In addition, the government is raising police salaries and benefits.  Many of the larger all-inclusive hotels and resorts have agreed to contribute monies to pay for additional security personnel, equipment, police vehicles, and surveillance cameras.

According to a report from Bloomberg, the State of Quintana Roo receives a third of all tourists to Mexico annually, representing approximately 10 million visitors per year.  At the same time, there has been tremendous population growth in Q. Roo with 4.1 percent growth throughout the 2000s and the area is growing every year.  Baja California Sur also represents a significant amount of tourism dollars into the local economy as well as millions of visitors every year.  The Trades decided to examine what the Mexican government is doing to ensure the safety of its visitors to its tourist destinations.  Also, we decided to speak to some industry professionals from various resort developers to better understand what they are doing to address the negative publicity, while reassuring their guests it is safe to visit Mexico.

“Events are happening that weren’t common in this city,” Mexican Army Lt. Col. Darwin Puc Acosta, who took over as Cancun’s police chief in June, was quoted as saying by Bloomberg.  He also stated, “I sincerely don’t consider them alarming.  They’re situations that can be resolved if they’re attended to properly.  And that’s what we’re doing.”  The Federal government has already sent troops to Q. Roo to help reinforce security forces there, and municipal authorities recently brought on Julian Leyzoala, who inspired fear and praise during his time as police chief in Ciudad Juarez and Tijuana, as an advisor. The Governors of both states of Q. Roo and Baja California Sur have said they are working to improve the state’s police salaries and benefits and to expand their ranks.  However, they admit it has been a slow process as they have put a new vetting program in place to ensure newly hired officers are qualified.

This year in July, Mexico’s Secretary of Tourism Enrique de la Madrid, announced the government would implement a trial security program in Los Cabos, Cancun, and Acapulco, stating, ”These are the destinations that concern us the most at the moment because of the impact they have on Mexico’s image abroad.” He continued by saying, ”the federal government has called on businesses, local and state governments, and the residents of the tourist areas to help fund the program, and the rule of law and political institutions still need to be strengthened.”

Tourism in Mexico and these tourist destinations represent billions of dollars annually, and the increase in crime in these locations could jeopardize this business.  Locals say that the majority of the crime is outside the resort areas where tourists stay but they also recognize they have to be vigilant as a community to prevent the increase in crime going forward.  Last year in 2016, Mexico welcomed over 35 million visitors and became the number eight in the world for receiving tourists.  Tourism officials acknowledge the problem plaguing tourist towns, such as low wages, inadequate housing for workers, and the increase in crime.  The Secretary of Tourism stated, ”We don’t just work to attract foreign tourists, but above all, to improve local people’s quality of life.”

In Q. Roo, where the Cancun and the Riviera Maya is located, the Director of Riviera Maya Tourist Promotion said, “Tourist security has been a constant priority for the authorities.”  He described the violence as, “…criminal groups settling scores among themselves.”  He continued by saying, “No tourists have been impacted.” The newly appointed State Secretary of Tourism, Marisol Vanegas Perez, has continuously attempted to reassure the public it is safe to travel throughout Q. Roo and other parts of Mexico.  She pointed out that Cozumel has, in fact, not seen an increase in homicides, as had been reported by the US State Department.   Vanegas pointed out Cancun has two large convention centers and the Riviera Maya has 42 business friendly hotels with a total 23,667 meeting rooms and in 2016 within the business tourism sector had an economic impact of over $240 million dollars.  In addition, she explained the state government was committed to the security and safety of its visitors stating, “Hence the importance strengthening this industry and generating conditions for tourism is to generate benefits for the people and contribute to reducing the inequalities that historically the state has suffered.” Vanegas went on to reveal that investors are planning on starting eight hotel projects during 2017 in Mexico’s Quintana Roo that will consist of more than 12,000 hotel rooms and will be located in Cancun, Riviera Maya, Isla Mujeres, Holbox, Bacalar, and Mahahual.

In the end, this author believes it is still safe for foreign timeshare members/owners and visitors to travel to Mexico and enjoy their vacations.  The local, state, and federal authorities are all working hand in hand to maintain safety and security throughout Mexico’s tourist destinations and beyond.  We hope to see you soon in Mexico enjoying the white sandy beaches, food, music, and diverse culture.

J. Michael Martinez

J. Michael Martinez is Resort Trades’ emissary in Mexico and contributes a monthly column. He is the executive vice president of Cyria Group, a marketing and sales support company, and serves on the Board of Directors for C.A.R.E. (Cooperative Association of Resort Exchangers).