Correction: An earlier version of a photo caption with this article incorrectly identified a calendar as being Mayan. It was Aztec. This version has been corrected.
Not so long ago, Mexico was the go-to vacation destination for many Americans. But more recently, the country has become something of a travel pariah. Drug violence has left innocent bystanders dead in border towns such as Ciudad Juarez, and the U.S. State Department has warned against travel south of the border. Just last month, it warned of possible increased violence in the state of Chihuahua.
Nonetheless, the Mexican government says, the number of foreign visitors to the country grew 2.1 percent between January and May, compared with the same period in 2010. Of roughly 22 million international visitors annually, 60 percent are from the United States, and Mexican officials would like to keep it that way. On a recent U.S. public relations swing, Mexican Tourism Secretary Gloria Guevara sat down with Travel’s Nancy Trejos to talk about why Americans should keep Mexico on their favorite destinations list. Excerpts:
What do you think of the State Department’s travel warnings, and how have they affected tourism?
The challenge that we’re facing is that communications are very general. They are not very specific and they create confusion. You cannot have an entire warning for a complete state. Yes, we acknowledge there are some issues in some pockets, in some specific locations. To give you an example, Mexico has 2,500 counties. Eighty of those have issues. So does that mean that the entire country has issues? Of course not. Eighty of 2,500 is less than 5 percent. Ninety percent of Americans go to six destinations. The tourist destinations are very far from where we have these issues. What’s affecting the number of travelers to Mexico is the [U.S.] economy. The number of Americans traveling outside of the country has been reduced. That’s impacting everyone.
What is your message to Americans who worry about traveling to Mexico?
For us in Mexico, when we talk about the U.S., we don’t say the U.S., we say Orlando, L.A., Washington. If something happened last week, if there was a shooting in East L.A., does that mean you can’t go to Washington? Of course not.
Do you recommend that American travelers take precautions when in Mexico?
The only thing that I would tell them is to get a map. Know where you’re going and avoid the hot spots. That’s it. And the hot spots, most are in some of the areas of the border.
Aside from Cancun and Puerto Vallarta and other well-traveled areas, where else should Americans consider visiting?
Huatulco, Oaxaca, if they like more culture. Campeche; we are going to promote it because of the Maya world. The Maya culture has been around for more than 5,000 years. Dec. 21, 2012, is the end of the [Mayan] calendar. According to the Maya, a new era is going to begin. We have five states [Quintana Roo, Yucatan, Chiapas, Campeche and Tabasco] in the south of the country that have unique places to visit. There are thousands of archaeological sites.
Why choose Mexico over, let’s say, Costa Rica?
We have greater value for your money. When you combine what Mexico has, no one else can offer the same. In Mexico, you can stay at a great property. We have 14 AAA five-diamond hotels. In Mexico, you have great locations, great infrastructure, great food, great service, and you can do activities you can’t find elsewhere and enjoy a cultural experience. Combine that with outstanding hospitality that no one can beat.