Mexico has long been a major vacation destination for U.S. holidaymakers, and why wouldn’t it be? With alluring beaches, enchanting resorts, tropical climates, and the close proximity, Mexico is in the perfect position to dominate the U.S. tourism market. However, following a recent series of negative publicity, including reports of rampant crime, police corruption, and instances of violence, people became hesitant to venture there.
For the most part, that apprehension regarding travel to Mexico has subsided, but what caused travelers’ destination anxiety, and how can advisors prepare for and adapt to clients’ fears in the future?
The problem in a nutshell
For advisors, selling Mexico in recent months has been like swimming against the tide. Despite continued interest in the destination and relatively steady sales numbers, nearly eight in 10 (78%) advisors said they have had clients tell them they didn’t want to travel to Mexico during the past six months, according to the Travel Market Report “2019 Outlook on Mexico.”
For many travelers, the fear and uncertainty surrounding Mexico stems from news reports that either over-sensationalized issues, or that failed to frame those situations in the proper context. Combine this with oversaturation and a tense political climate, and it’s no wonder travelers were turned off to the destination.
“Some have fear of food and crime,” said one agent, while another said the apprehension is “due to the crime and murders and shootings.” Another said clients are “scared because of what they hear in the media.”
Many agents told us after listening, and discussing concerns with clients, that they were able to change their minds. “I explain, Mexico is safe and I use my own experience,” said one respondent; while another added, “I let them know Mexico is a wonderful country and shouldn’t be avoided.”
One advisor said they are hearing from fewer clients who don’t want to go to Mexico, citing that “the media has moved on to the Dominican Republic.”
According to numerous professionals in the travel industry, much of what has been publicized about Mexico’s safety has been misleading. “Speaking personally as an agency owner … I think it’s a very safe destination,” said Tom Brussow, president of Sunsational Beach Vacations, and president of the organization Yes to Mexico (a non-profit that aims to debunk myths about the country).
“We’ve run into some concerns driven by [misleading] headlines, but overall, I still think it’s extremely popular,” said Brussow.
He emphasized that, while some places in Mexico are potentially dangerous for travelers, there was little need to be worried. “Our clients are really getting a sense that what they’re reading in the headlines doesn’t conform with reality very well … Once they get down there, once they get to the resort, and they get a chance to meet and understand the Mexican people … they have an amazing time.”
Fact from fiction
And therein lies the problem. There’s a significant rift between what is reported about Mexico in the news, and what a majority of travelers experience when they visit.
Despite what a number of headlines have reported, incidents in Mexico involving tourists are extremely few and far between.
Most trips occur without incident and clients return home with great memories and plans to come back. Only a small percentage of those trips end badly for travelers, but those are the stories that seem to garner the most media attention.
Now, this isn’t to say that traveling through Mexico poses no risks. But generally speaking, if travelers stick to safe areas like resorts, and exercise good common sense, they should have no reason to feel uneasy.
“Just like if you’re traveling anywhere else in the world, you have to take the necessary precautions and use common sense,” said Brussow. “Really rely on the resort. They’re all in gated communities, and the atmosphere and safety levels at the resort are extremely high. We want to make sure people have a happy, safe vacation, and they make the right choices and do not put themselves in situations where something might happen.”
In fact, crime rates there are relatively low, and violent crime is something that any visitor using common sense should not encounter. “Don’t find yourself at the wrong place at the wrong time. I’d have the same advice if someone was going to New York or Los Angeles or Miami … just practice common sense.”
Despite all this negativity, Mexico remains remarkably popular among tourists, and is currently the sixth most visited country in the world. In 2018, a total of 41.4 million international tourists visited Mexico, an increase of 5.5% compared to 2017, according to the country's Secretary of Tourism.
Over the last few months, the wave of negative reports has subsided, and like clockwork, so too has travelers’ apprehension about Mexico seemingly abated. But many clients still have lingering doubts about the safety of the destination, which is where advisors can step in.
“We do talk about [safety] with clients,” said Stephanie Schneiderman, a travel specialist for Tia Stephanie Tours. “We do our very best to help them understand the dynamics and nature of some of the things they hear and read about.”
Occasionally, her clients would come to her with questions of safety, but Schneiderman said providing context often helps to alleviate some of their concerns. “They’re often quite astounded with the gap that exists between what they’ve read and what they’re actually experiencing [when they arrive].”
She added that news about safety for travelers in Mexico is often given without proper context, and that single-dimensional reports are damaging to the reputation of the Mexican tourism industry. “There’s no context to it, they’re not giving the full picture. Media tends to be negative, it’s rarely positive, and I think, historically, the media has tended to have a very, let’s say, problematic approach to covering Mexico.”
Advisors found that explaining the situation in Mexico, and providing the proper context was a great way to help ease client’s worries, and having first-hand knowledge of the destination goes a long way toward making the sale.
“I think there are questions about safety, and [people are] asking questions about what’s happening and what precautions they can take,” said Ted Blank, a host agency manager and luxury travel advisor for Market Square Travel. “I think those questions have become fewer recently, maybe over the last six months, than they were a year ago.
“Kind of across the agency, we saw a softness in the third and fourth quarters of 2018, and then it rebounded pretty rapidly,” Blank added. “And at this point, for 2019, our Mexico bookings are up more than what they were last year.”
He attributes this impact on sales to a fair amount of negative publicity, which has since relaxed significantly.
See for yourself
But how should advisors address client concerns? According to Blank, you must first become an expert on the destination. And what better way is there to familiarize oneself with a place, than to visit it?
“If you’re personally on the fence as an adviser of Mexico, it might be worth taking a trip down there and checking it out, and coming back with first-hand knowledge,” said Blank. “The first-hand knowledge can be really helpful when you’re talking to clients and interacting with them.
“I thought it was lovely, I had no concerns about my personal safety. The reasons people go there is it’s an amazing destination, it’s easy to get to, and there are combinations across all budgets and categories. All those things continue to be true.”
Despite everything that Mexico has to offer for holidaymakers, there will still always be those who don’t feel comfortable about the destination, and that’s okay. “Some people can’t be convinced, and it’s not really your role to convince them. It’s really your role to share facts with them and let them make their own decisions,” said Blank. “And if folks choose not to go to Mexico, there are other destinations that can provide a fantastic vacation.”