Mexico is frequently the focus of negative imagery in the U.S. media, often causing Americans to warn their friends to rethink their travel there, on social media and other communications platforms.
The U.S. embassy in Mexico City, early in 2018, issued a brief travel warning for Playa del Carmen, following a February blast on a ferry injuring 26 people, including several American citizens. The detonation appeared to be connected to rival ferry operators.
Additionally, 2018 was a deadly year in the region, mostly for Mexican citizens. Officials estimated that Quintana Roo’s 2018 homicide rate could end up at about 50 per 100,000, on a par with El Salvador.
But while places like Cancun and Playa del Carmen no doubt have a crime problem, mostly related to gangs and drug cartels, the lives of locals do not reflect any more reason to avoid vacationing there than, say Los Angeles, where two mass shootings in 2018 do not seem to be impacting tourism to that major U.S. city.
“People need to realize that, the reality is, living here is no different than living in Dubuque, Iowa,” said Ed Cotton, co-owner of the International Association of Destination Wedding Professionals (IADWP), and a longtime Playa del Carmen resident.
“We go to the grocery store, shop at Lowes for our hardware and lumber, Starbucks for a cup of coffee. The only difference is, this place is paradise.”
“I’ve lived here for 20 years, married a Mexican woman, raised my children (11 and 17 years old) here,” said Sakari Malinen, director of sales at the Hotel Xcaret Mexico. Malinen has lived in Puerto Vallarta, Los Cabos, Mexico City and now Playa del Carmen.
“My children go to school here, we go out for dinner, the movies. I’ve never had this fearful perception,” said Malinen. “This country is so much more than what people realize through reading newspapers or watching the television news. Unfortunately, in our age, most people don’t read enough and research enough.
“My children have made me promise we are not moving anywhere in the near future. It’s a perfect balance of a city with services and activities, but also access to the beaches. It’s a small town with bigger services, and Cancun is only an hour drive north.”
“It’s unfortunate that, for some, this is their perception,” said Alfredo Santamaria, managing director, Live Aqua Beach Resort, Cancun. The property has more than 700 employees who live, work, and commute to and from Live Aqua every day. “We live no differently than anyone else in America.”
(The day of this interview, seven people died in a bar gun battle local officials believe involved a drug gang. For the most part, a group of North American attendees at a travel advisor training program during the incident told Travel Market Report that they had no concerns for their safety.)
“For some people, the perception of Mexico is underdeveloped, dusty, dangerous,” Malinen said. “That is the perception we have unfortunately. But the fact of the matter is, 30 million tourists globally come to Mexico every year, and such a small fraction find themselves with an issue of some kind that they might not experience in their home country.”
Malinen recalled how his family visited France in December, and their bus was stopped by angry “yellow vest” protesters on the Charles de Gaulle airport property. “That is how the world is right now,” he said, “but it didn’t cause us to form an opinion of France as unsafe.”
Working in the tourism industry, and seeing the positive impact of having people from other countries take their warm experiences back to their home countries makes people like Malinen, Cotton, and others optimistic.
“More and more people are becoming aware of the truth,” Malinen said.