By Celece Seegmiller for The Spectrum Newspaper, 3/29/11
There is a little piece of paradise where beautiful resorts line white sandy beaches and translucent turquoise waves crash on the shore. It’s Mexico’s most-visited area and it features everything from Mayan ruins to five star resorts to some of the best snorkeling and scuba diving in the world. I am referring to Cancun and unfortunately, this world class tourist destination is receiving negative press due to escalating drug cartel violence in Mexico.
There is usually not a day that goes by in my office when I don’t hear someone ask if Mexico is safe or mention that they are staying away from Mexico because of a story they heard on the news. It is true, the country has been making headlines with drug-war-related kidnappings and killings. The U.S. State Department issued a travel warning for Mexico last fall, mainly involving border towns and cities plagued with violence such as Acapulco and Monterrey, which are on the other side of the country from Cancun. Regardless of the distance from Cancun, many travelers are opting to spend their vacations in other destinations.
“The safest people here are the tourists,” Erandeni Abundis of the Cancun Convention & Visitors Bureau says. “We depend on tourism. We couldn’t afford to lose it.” Cancun and neighboring Riviera Maya, account for more than 50% of Mexico’s income from international tourism, says Jesus Almaguer, CEO of the Cancun Visitors Bureau. Cancun is trying to retain its position as the No. 1 vacation destination in the Caribbean and increased security in the tourist zone. “To accommodate Americans, visitors now can dial 911 in Cancun for emergencies instead of the 066 that locals use. Not one Cancun tourist has been killed in drug-cartel-related violence,” Abundis stated. Safety precautions are taken from the moment a visitor arrives at the airport. One can’t help but notice the officer in camouflage with an assault rifle just outside of customs and dozens of “tourist advisers” that greet visitors and point the way to approved airport transportation.
Wyatt Larsen recently returned from his family vacation at the Banyan Tree Mayakoba Resort, located south of Cancun in the Riviera Maya. When I asked about his experience, he replied with the following statement: ”Contrary to the prevailing public opinion surrounding tourist safety in Mexico, I felt completely safe during our stay in the country. As a father of two young daughters, I put my family’s safety above all when it comes to making decisions on where we travel. After careful consideration and some discussion with Celece at the Travel Connection, we felt comfortable visiting the Mayan Riviera and this decision was reinforced throughout our vacation. Sadly, I do believe that some parts of the country are out of bounds for U.S. citizens at the moment due to the escalating violence between the drug cartels and the government, which is a shame for the Mexican economy and the citizens that rely on tourism for their wellbeing. With that said, I would not have any reservations about returning to the region surrounding Cancun with my family.”
Despite what you might read or hear, Cancun is a wonderful vacation. It is easily accessible with flights from St. George and within 6.5 hours, you’ll be surrounded by some of the most beautiful beaches and resorts on the planet. Your most difficult decision in Cancun is whether you spend the day visiting eco parks like Xel Ha or Xcaret; discovering the awe-inspiring Mayan Ruins at Chichen Itza, Tulum, or Coba; indulging in the water sports of deep sea fishing, snorkeling, or scuba diving; or just relaxing on the beach. Just like any vacation, remember to pack your common sense and be aware of your surroundings. For a complete list of international travel tips and hints, visit www.travelsense.org.