Mexico Forges Ahead with Tourism Promotion despite Ongoing Drug-Related Violence

Article excerpt

The Mexican government is putting a positive spin on the state of its tourism industry despite the extreme drug-related violence that might be keeping some foreign visitors away. Among other things, the administration has launched a series of innovative promotional videos to be aired in the US and has begun a megatourism project along the Pacific Coast. And the somewhat rosy picture presented by President Felipe Calderon is supported by some statistics, which expect the number of foreign visitors to exceed the 22.4 million who visited Mexico last year.

But there are also red flags. Despite the federal government's efforts to clean up the main beach resorts in Mexico, only 17 of the 245 beaches have free-of-pollution-certified sites. And some deep wounds were opened in the tourism sector when the government moved the annual Tianguis Turistico de Mexico away from Acapulco SourceMex, April 4, 2011. The fair, which will be rotated among several cities around the country, will be held in Puerto Vallarta in 2012.

This led to some suggestions that the Secretaria de Turismo (SECTUR) and the Consejo de Promocion Turistica de Mexico (CPTM) are using the event to gain political favors from local communities. But there is a stark reality. The drugrelated violence in Acapulco might have been a small factor in the tourism authorities' decision to move the country's largest industry fair outside the port city SourceMex, July 23, 2006.

Drug violence remains a constant in some tourist destinations

While government officials continue to tell would-be visitors that drug violence generally occurs away from areas most frequented by tourists, some communities along the US-Mexico border that were once popular destinations for North American visitors, including Ciudad Juarez and Nuevo Laredo, are now seeing very little tourist traffic.

And the drug violence is beginning to deter visitors to venues once considered safe, or at least not as dangerous. Among these is Monterrey, which has been one of the more popular destinations for business travelers SourceMex, March 3, 2011 and Sept. 1, 2011.

More recently, the port of Veracruz, which has tended to attract both national and international visitors, was the site of a gruesome event. On Sept. 20, suspected members of a drug cartel dumped the bodies of 35 people suspected of having ties to a rival organization near the community of Boca del Rio, a popular destination for tourists. The victims were thought to have been associated with the Zetas drug cartel, and prosecutors speculated that the killers might have been linked to the Gulf cartel or the Sinaloa cartel.

The high-profile killings in Veracruz could not have come at a worse time for the Calderon government, which had just launched an innovative publicity campaign in the US to draw visitors to Mexico. The "Royal Tour" campaign includes episodes filmed at impressive tourist spots in Mexico. The shows feature travel journalist Peter Greenberg and Calderon rappelling into the Sotano de Golondrinas cavern in San Luis Potosi, exploring an underwater cave in Quintana Roo, watching gray whales in the Sea of Cortes, and flying in a hotair balloon over the Pyramid of the Moon in the Teotihuacan archeological site. The shows will air on the US Public Broadcasting System (PBS).

At the ceremony to unveil the campaign, held at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City, Calderon was forced to answer questions about tourist safety in Mexico. "Let me tell you that the problem of violence is mostly limited to the battle between one organization and another," the Mexican president said. "It is tied to narcotics trafficking and not with tourism, and that is a very important distinction."

The Mexican president told reporters that his staff tried to dissuade him from taking such a prominent role in the promotional campaign, in part because it would open him to criticism from political opponents. …