Monday, December 27, 2010

Mexico Tourism Sees Increase Despite Drug Violence

Dispite a flair up of crime along boarder cities, tourism to Mexico is on the rise according to this Associated Press article. Costal regions farther south such as the Riviera Maya are still drawing in many visitors from the US and Canada with discounted travel rates and inviting resort communities.

Tourism officials in Mexico and the U.S. say holiday travel to Mexico is up from a year ago as vacationers cash in on low-cost tropical holidays. Tourism revenue is up 7.1 percent in the first 10 months of 2010, compared to the same months of 2009, with visitors spending $9.8 billion, according to the Mexican Tourism Ministry.

To read the entire article, click here.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Mexico Quandary: Safety or Savings?

By MICHELLE HIGGINS of The New York Times
Published: December 21, 2010

When Alex Trettin and his wife, Jenn, suggested to family and friends that they take a group vacation to Mexico, the reaction was mixed. About half of the group of 29 immediately signed on for the November trip to the Riviera Maya, south of Cancún, where they would visit Maya ruins, fish and lounge by the pool at an upscale resort for the bargain price of $150 a person a night. The other half hesitated, citing concern about Mexico’s continuing drug war.

“My aunt stated she hoped we didn’t have any issues with the drug cartels,” said Mr. Trettin, a Mexico-travel specialist in Tacoma, Wash., who assured everyone that the beach resort they were going to near Playa del Carmen was far from the violent clashes they had seen on television. Ultimately, they all went, but the concerns that some in the group expressed are indicative of the quandary many travelers face when they consider the safety risks versus the convenience and affordability of a vacation in Mexico.

While most of the drug-related violence has been in the northern border region of Mexico, far from the Maya temples of the Yucatán, the regional cuisine of Oaxaca or the beaches of Baja California Sur, violence has erupted in tourist destinations like Acapulco and the state of Michoacán, home to the famous monarch butterfly sanctuaries. Even Cancún’s safety was questioned earlier this year after eight employees of a strip club there were killed when a group of men threw Molotov cocktails into the building in an area not frequented by tourists.

To combat the perception that violence has been widespread, tourism officials in Mexico have invested $30 million in advertising and social media initiatives to spread the word that much of the country is safe for tourists. “Visitors have the right to be well informed,” said Alfonso Sumano, the regional director for the Mexico Tourism Board for the Americas. Many of the affected areas, he said, “are very far from the destinations tourists visit.”

The latest travel warning, issued by the State Department in September, urged American citizens to defer unnecessary travel specifically to Michoacán and areas along the northern border, including Tamaulipas, and parts of Chihuahua, Durango and Coahuila, where tourists generally don’t go. Yet, ever cautious, it stated, “violence has occurred throughout the country, including in areas frequented by American tourists.” Visitors were encouraged to stay on main roads in daylight hours and to remain in well-known tourist areas.

All of this has made travel to Mexico a hard sell lately, but travel agents say the negative publicity has also made Mexico among the best values out there as resorts lower rates or add free incentives to entice travelers. When asked where agents are recommending travelers go to get the most for their dollar this year, 70 percent said Mexico, according to Travel Leaders, a major network of agents.

“A lot of clients will come here and say, ‘I’ll go anywhere except Mexico,’ ” said Kate Rosevear, owner of a Travel Leaders agency in Plymouth, Mich. “Quite often we’ll be able to talk them back around to it based on the value.”

Some of the deals agents and tourism officials point out include Casa Ticul, a boutique hotel in Playa del Carmen, which is offering 20 percent off rates of $171 a night to travelers who book a January stay by the end of December. Villa del Palmar Cancún, a new all-inclusive resort in Playa Mujeres with a Greg Norman-designed golf course, has rates from $186 a person a night during the holidays and a rate of $142 a person a night after that — up to 60 percent off. And St. Regis Punta Mita is offering butler service, a third night free, a $50 resort credit per room and a glass of Champagne with its Welcome to Paradise deal from $580 a night for stays starting Jan. 11.

Mexican Destinations, the Mexico Villa brand of the rental company VacationRoost, has trained its agents to educate clients who call with safety concerns about how far its villas are from reported violence, and is offering specials of 25 to 50 percent off. One deal is Casa del Sol, a four-bedroom, five-bath property on the Pacific Coast in Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo, where rates have been slashed to $750 a night, from $1,500, in early January.

The pricing strategy seems to be working. The number of international tourists arriving in Mexico by air from January to October was 8.2 million, according to the latest data from the Mexico Tourist Board. That is an increase of 17.8 percent compared with the same period last year, when Mexico endured a down economy, H1N1 scares and drug violence. Visitors are up 6.4 percent over the same period in 2008, which was considered to be one of the best years for travel to Mexico. The number of American travelers increased by 13.4 percent, compared with the same time period in 2009.

Many resorts say safety is at the top of their guests’ minds. “When our reservations manager receives requests, the first question that is asked is if there has been violence in this area,” said Giorgio Brignone, the proprietor of Costa Careyes, a luxury resort two hours south of Puerto Vallarta, which has added free airport transfers to and from Manzanillo. To put jittery travelers at ease, the company has placed ads in magazines promoting “a different Mexico.” In addition, the company’s Web site highlighted the 24-hour security at the resort.

Part of the problem is that many travelers are unclear about where the violence has occurred and how it might affect their vacation, Mr. Brignone said. “People don’t realize that there are many regions and areas in the country that are not affected by the violence and drug wars,” he said. “It’s like saying I will not go to Dallas, or New York, because there are problems or riots in Los Angeles.”

Still, there are some tourist destinations travelers should steer clear of, at least for now. “I would not encourage my family to visit Acapulco right now,” said Josh Miller, who lives in Mexico City and is the general director for Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean for Control Risks, a risk management firm. “While a wonderful place to visit,” he said, “violent confrontations have been spilling over from the military effort against the cartels.” Travelers should also hold off on visits to Michoacán, in central Mexico. The state is a stronghold of La Familia, a drug cartel known for bold ambushes.

Popular resort areas, including Mazatlán, Puerto Vallarta, Ixtapa and Cancún’s resort strip are generally safe for travelers, Mr. Miller said, particularly if visitors stay within the resort’s boundaries. “Mexico is a volatile place,” he said. “You have to have your itinerary planned out quite well, consider transportation and stay abreast of latest developments.”

Some travelers who have been to Mexico before are surprised when friends express safety concerns. “Everybody was like, ‘What? You are going to Mexico?’ ” said Tina Youtsey, a dog groomer from Milan, Mich., who went to the Riviera Maya with her teenage daughter last month. “Seriously,” she said, “the drug lords aren’t hanging out at the resort.” Having visited Mexico two times before, she added, “I wasn’t really worried.”

Monday, December 13, 2010

Is it safe to travel to Mexico? Judging from the numbers, many are saying 'Yes'

By Jayne Clark, USA TODAY

The beach at Tulum, at the southern end of Mexico's Riviera Maya. Visitation to Mexico is up, despite concerns about drug violence. Despite tales of drug violence, visitation to Mexico was up almost 19% over last year, as of September. And with 22.6 million tourists expected by year's end, numbers will about equal the record-breaking totals in 2008. About 80% of visitors are North American.

In fact, slightly more foreigners are vacationing in Mexico now than before the drug wars, which have killed about 30,000 (mostly drug traffickers) in the past four years, The Economist reported in November. Mexico now ranks No. 10 in international arrivals worldwide.

I'm just back from San Miguel de Allende, a gorgeous colonial city in central Mexico (read about it Friday at, where, not surprisingly, more than one conversation during my visit turned toward security concerns.

But not the sort of concerns you might think. The Americans I spoke with there were worried about the bum rap they believe the entire country is getting due to drug violence that , for the most part, is concentrated hundreds of miles away near the U.S. border.

"There is very little crime here, and what there is doesn't affect gringos," said Irina Posner, a retired CBS News employee and one of an estimated 12,000 to 14,000 ex-pats who live full or part-time in San Miguel. " We love this town. We feel safe in this town."

So did I, covering miles of narrow, cobbled walkways solo by day and by night in the 17th-century city. I felt as secure as I do in my own neighborhood, yet some innkeepers say they've had cancellations due to safety concerns.

Americans are notoriously near-sighted when it comes to geographical perspective. It's an issue Mexico's new tourism secretary Gloria Guevara addressed in an on-line seminar sponsored by the trade publication, Travel Weekly, last month. She acknowledged there are places in Mexico that tourists should avoid, specifically Matamoros and Ciudad Juarez on the Texas border. (And frankly, aside from those looking to do a cheap booze run, I'm not sure who would have frequented those border towns even before the drug-cartel bloodbaths).

"But for the rest of the country, you can relax and enjoy yourself," she told the Travel Weekly audience.

Actually, as someone who has traveled all over Mexico, I think I'd also skip Acapulco, which had a spate of nasty drug-related killings in September. But Acapulco many years ago ceased to be an American vacation destination.

Mexico's tourist sweet spot is Cancun, about 1,000 miles from Ciudad Juarez. Aside from an August bar shooting in a working-class neighborhood far removed from the resort zone, there has been no reported drug violence there. Another popular, earthier destination, is the Copper Canyon, which lies more than 200 miles from the border, or about the distance between New York and Baltimore.

"If you were planning a trip to New York, would you cancel it if you heard about challenges in Baltimore?" Guevara asked.

Vacation costs -- mainly hotels -- are down in Mexico. The average tourist spends about 5% less than in 2008, The Economist reports. And a number of forecasters are predicting that discounting in Cancun and south along the Riviera Maya will make that region particularly popular this winter.

The website Travelzoo , for instance, lists a four-night package, with air and all meals and drinks starting at $562 per person, double. It's good for travel Jan. 4-31, but must be booked by Jan. 10.

Another website, Smarter Travel, cites increased air service as likely to boost travel to Mexico. On Dec. 1, Southwest Airlines joined with Mexican carrier Volaris, allowing customers to travel on a single itinerary booked on Southwest. On Dec. 15, Alaska Airlines begins service between San Jose and Guadalajara, and from Sacramento on Dec. 16. On Feb. 10, American Eagle launches daily nonstop service from Dallas to Veracruz and Queretaro. And on Feb. 12, American begins seasonal service between Chicago and Cozumel.

How do you feel about vacationing in Mexico?

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Martha Stewart Visits San Miguel de Allende

Recently Martha Stewart stopped into the beautifully vibrant community of San Miguel de Allende and experienced some of the local flavor. In her three-part blog post she outlines some of her favorite sights. Here is an excerpt:

San Miguel de Allende . . . an exceptionally beautiful colonial city nestled in the central highlands of Mexico. I was so impressed with the magnificent architecture found there and with the wealth of Spanish colonial history. Whenever I travel to new destinations, I like to experience as much of the local flavor, as possible. I try and always make a point of visiting some of the local markets, where you find the true heart and soul of a country.

Read more at:

A Visit to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico (Part One)

Crazy for Tequila in San Miguel de Allende (Part Two)

El Mercado in San Miguel de Allende (Part Three)

Be sure to click through some of the many photos to get a taste of what San Miguel has to offer.