As Mexico launches a multimillion-dollar campaign to entice travellers back to its beaches, it is time for Canadians to confront the myths and misconceptions that tarnish the destination’s reputation.
Myth No. 1 There is a high risk of catching swine flu in Mexico.
The facts: Authorities in Canada, the U.S. and Britain have withdrawn their travel warnings, but only after they devastated Mexico’s tourism industry. The World Health Organization opposed such advisories from the start, arguing that sealing borders does nothing to contain a virus.
The original H1N1 flu cases were in Mexico City, not at resorts. Mexican officials reported recently that new cases in Mexico City were petering out, that 89 per cent of municipalities are flu free, and that no cases had been reported at beach resorts. In fact, the World Tourism Organization has cited Mexico’s moves to control the virus as a benchmark for other destinations.
While there were a number of deaths in Mexico early on, most travellers who brought the disease home had relatively mild cases. And, as of this week, the number of confirmed cases was higher in the United States (over 10,000) than in Mexico (over 4,000). Canada is third with over 1,000 reported cases.
Myth No. 2 Mexicans turned on travellers when a tour operator went under.
The facts: When Conquest Vacations shut down unexpectedly in April, the media vilified hoteliers who charged vacationers for rooms that had been prepaid in Canada. Mexico got most of the bad publicity, but in reality such incidents were rare and took place in a number of Caribbean destinations.
The panic exhibited on the part of some hoteliers in various resort countries was due to the very large sums owed to them by Conquest. Some employees feared they would be charged if they did not collect from travellers. Most of the resort hotels are owned by Spanish corporations who understand the value of Canadian tourists and the damage caused by these incidents.
The Mexico Tourism Board has stated emphatically that the behavior was unacceptable and that they have taken steps along with the government to ensure consumers are never again the target of an operator’s failure.
Myth No. 3 Mexico is a hotbed of violent crime.
The facts: There have been drug-related killings recently in Ciudad Juarez and other cities in Northern Mexico, along the U.S. border. But the beach resorts most frequented by Canadians have been oases of calm.
Fear-mongering by the media can damage destinations needlessly. A Vancouver Province story in March, for example, speculated that gang violence might soon spread to a popular Mexican resort. The shoe was on the other foot a month later when Britain’s Independent on Sunday newspaper described Vancouver as a city of “blood-spattered streets littered with shell casings and corpses.”
Canadians aren’t boycotting Vancouver where life goes on despite a rash of shootings. The same common sense should be applied to Mexico. While President Felipe Calderon is making progress in his crackdown on drug violence in border cities, resort areas remain calm. And a weak peso means tourist dollars go further than ever.
More Canadians visit Mexico than any country except the United States. A record 1,144,650 showed up in 2008. And they aren’t looking over their shoulders. In a March survey, 100 per cent of Mexican Riviera tourists reported feeling comfortable and safe within resorts and 96 per cent felt safe on tours.
For accurate information on security in Mexico, check with Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs (voyage.dfait-maeci.gc.ca). Its current Travel Report on Mexico spells out the high-risk areas and advises travellers to be “aware of their surroundings at all times.” That’s excellent advice, whether you’re in Mexico or Vancouver.
Photo Credits: Xaviarnau, sjharmon, pjohnson1