Two news website reports and some social media platform posts might lead you to think that the U.S. State Department, in the last week, had updated security advisories for Mexico’s principal tourist destinations. But a State Department official and the Mexico Tourism Board told Travel Market Report that simply isn’t true.
The disparity in what is being reported online, and what has actually occurred, highlights the difficulty that travelers and travel agents can experience when trying to understand the safety and security guidance that official government entities like the State Department are providing. (None of the major national news outlets have reported any changes.)
In Mexico, currently there are no travel restrictions for U.S. government employees (a proxy for advice to tourists) to all of the country’s popular destinations, including resort areas like Cabo San Lucas, Cancun, Cozumel, and Merida.
For example, on the State Department’s Mexico country page, the agency states: “There are no restrictions on U.S. government employees in tourist areas in Chiapas state, such as: Palenque, San Cristobal de las Casas, and Tuxtla Gutierrez.”
Further down, it states: “There are no restrictions on U.S. government employees for stays in the following tourist areas in Jalisco state: Guadalajara, Puerto Vallarta, Chapala, and Ajijic.”
But, according to the State Department official contacted by Travel Market Report, who requested to remain anonymous, these lines “were added on January 10, 2018” to the travel advisory, and have remained unchanged since then.
In both cases, Chiapas and Jalisco states continue to have Level 2 travel advisories, which means travelers should “Exercise Increased Caution.” A Level 1 advisory means “Exercise Normal Precautions,” and Level 3 indicates travelers should “Reconsider Travel.” Level 4 indicates a complete ban on travel to a city or region.
These facts were confirmed by a Mexico Tourism official based in New York City. “Nothing really major has changed in the State Department warning systems from this year,” she said. “Most of the cities within the states are 'proceed with caution.'”
Is the ranking system working?
This kind of confusion was exactly what the State Department was trying to avoid when it launched its new travel advisory ranking system and website earlier this year. Since the beginning of the year, the State Department has assigned a travel advisory level 1-4 to every country, but levels of advice may vary for specific locations or areas within a country.
For instance, State may advise U.S. citizens to “Exercise increased caution” (Level 2) in a country, but to “Reconsider travel” (Level 3) to a particular area within the country. In most cases, Mexico’s states are ranked at Level 2, though there are no restrictions on cities and resort areas within those states. A handful of states are ranked a level 3 or 4.
Currently, you have to scroll through each Mexican state description, and then typically to the last paragraph below the general state information to find a sentence about popular tourist locations.
Tourism took a hit earlier this year when the U.S. State Department cautioned Americans about visiting Playa del Carmen and other parts of the popular eastern Yucatan coastline, but lifted its warnings within a few weeks. So many travel agents and industry supporters were quick the last week or so to spread the news reports that the State Department travel advisories had somehow changed.
The State Department told Travel Market Report it uses a variety of information to formulate its travel advisories, including crime statistics and other publicly available information, data gathered from U.S. government sources, as well as assessments by embassy and consulate staff.
Travel advisories “also take into account decisions made to protect the security of U.S. government personnel overseas and ensure that U.S. citizens receive appropriate security information. This analysis is undertaken without regard to bilateral political or economic considerations,” the State Department told Travel Market Report.
The latest State Department update (July 13, 2018) for Mexico was for Ciudad Juarez, where the agency cautioned travelers to increase their safety measures due to a “marked increase in homicides.”