After a gang-related shooting on a Los Cabos beach, a gun fight in a Playa Del Carmen club, and a spate of drugged drinks, the State Department put a travel warning in place for Baja California Sur and Quintana Roo. Now, Mexico’s tourism industry has gone into a bit of a tailspin.
Five years ago, my girlfriend and I packed a 1981 Dodge camper van full of stuff and pointed ourselves south. We left from Vancouver Island, BC, and, after ten blissful days–and a whole bunch of silent mechanical worrying on my part–we arrived in sunny Southern California. We were travelers. We were #vanlifing. We would take ourselves deep into Baja whenever our little hearts desired. We were free!
Then, of course, we spent three months pissing secretively on the side of the road and sweating on each other in a cramped van. August in Los Angeles is a bad time to live in a van. Interestingly, somewhere between Canada and the United States, the general perception of Mexico changed dramatically. In Canada, Mexico isn’t a scary place. In the United States, it’s a country full of criminals, and you will almost certainly die if you go there. If the banditos don’t get you, the Federales surely will. “Oh, be careful,” Americans warn with concern in their eyes when you tell them you’re going to Mexico. “It’s DANGEROUS there.” It’s funny, though; walking in downtown L.A. at night feels a hell of a lot more dangerous than walking in most places in Mexico at night. It’s the same as anywhere, really: don’t walk around a dangerous area at night, especially if you’re drunk and flashing wads of cash around. Of course, the outlook that Mexico is a country full of thieves and murderers isn’t exactly minimized by the current political climate, but it’s an outlook that’s long been a little more alarmist in the good ol’ USA than in other countries.
“Insofar as impact on business, we have seen an uptick in cancellations, but we still see demand as being strong,” said David Hu, CEO of Classic Vacations to Travel Weekly after the travel advisory went into effect. “With all destinations, we advise our travelers to be aware of their surroundings and be cautious in certain situations, but we feel that the destination overall is much safer than the warning paints.”
The travel warning cites increased homicide rates in Baja California Sur and Quintana Roo, which are typically thought of as resort states–places where American college students go to get shitfaced and have sex with each other or where families go to eat sloppy all-inclusive resort food and piss in their seat by the swim up bar while trying not to stab themselves in the eye with the umbrella in their drink. But Mexico’s homicide rates really aren’t all that much different than anywhere else of similar size. “If you compare the rate in terms of homicides per 100,000 inhabitants in any city in the world, those particular destinations are very low,” said Alfonso Sumano, a director for Mexico’s Tourism Board. “I’m not saying that there are no problems … but the Mexico authorities are aware of certain incidents or certain problems that they have been facing in areas close to the destinations but not affecting any tourists or people enjoying the destinations. I truly believe that the travel advice, that the travel recommendation, is very clear and they are not recommending not to go, they are just recommending to use your common sense.”
Alex Zozayo, the president of Apple Leisure Group, told Travel Weekly that bookings to Cancun were down 20% after the travel advisory and overall bookings and cancellations to Mexico were also dropping. Zozayo–who, as the owner of a company that sells travel packages to Mexico, admittedly is a bit biased–is concerned about the grim picture President Trump is painting of Mexico.
“When the president Tweets ‘let’s build the wall,’ that’s fine,” he explained. “But [when he calls] Mexico ‘one of the most dangerous countries in the world’ – that’s the message that really hurts, that’s the message that is increasing the concerns or the anxiety, that’s not helping at all.”
With Mexico being one of the highest crime Nations in the world, we must have THE WALL. Mexico will pay for it through reimbursement/other.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 27, 2017
Interestingly, the danger to tourists is higher in many American states, a fact that Zozayo was quick to point out. “The percentage of tourists killed [in Mexico], that’s much lower than most tourism destinations including tourism destinations in the U.S.,” he said.
While a drop in tourism to places like Baja and Mainland Mex might be a boon to the traveling surfer, it’s pretty damn important to remember that your quest for a few empty waves is far less important than an industry worth around $12 billion. So book a ticket. Go spend some money in Mexico, and if you’re lucky, you’ll find a few crowded waves.