Mexico’s violence not keeping tourists away
08:31 AM CDT on Monday, October 11, 2010
Hugo Martin, Los Angeles Times
In a surprising turnabout, international tourism to Mexico showed a sharp increase this summer – a sign that tourists may be putting aside worries about the economy and fears of drug-related violence, analysts say.
Foreign visitors arriving by air to Mexico jumped to 7.1 million in the first eight months of the year – up nearly 20 percent from the same period in 2009 – with most visitors coming from the U.S. and Canada, Mexican tourism officials say.
The biggest rise came in July, when tourist numbers grew 27.5 percent over the same month last year.
The increase came despite a rash of drug-related violence and kidnappings, primarily along the border, and the August bankruptcy of Mexicana Airlines, the nation’s largest air carrier.
The growth in tourism has been focused primarily in Mexican beach resort towns that have not experienced much of the violence.
In the first eight months of 2010, 7.1 million foreign travelers flew to Mexico, up 19.2 percent from the same period last year. Of those visitors, 4.33 million were from the U.S., 1.3 million from Canada and 200,513 from Spain, according to Mexican tourism officials.
The latest numbers are a significant increase from 2009, when international tourism to Mexico dropped dramatically after the outbreak of the H1N1 virus, or swine flu. But compared with 2008, international travel to Mexico is up only 6 percent.
Still, analysts say, the latest jump in visitors suggests that U.S. travelers are more confident about spending on travel again and see Mexico as a good bargain for vacations.
The sharp increase in visitors to Mexico is also significant because analysts have predicted only modest growth in travel worldwide. International air travel, for example, was up 6 percent in August compared with a year earlier, according to the International Air Transport Association.
Hawaii also has seen tourism begin to rebound lately, but not enough to overcome the steep drop-off it suffered in 2009. In August, total arrivals by air to Hawaii were up about 11 percent from the same month last year, marking the ninth consecutive month of growth.
"We have had all of these challenges, but we are in the right track," said Alfonso Sumano, regional director for the Mexico Tourism Board for the Americas.
Travel agents say the growth in tourists’ interest in Mexico comes from a pent-up demand to travel.
Jack Richards, president of Pleasant Holidays, a Westlake Village, Calif., travel agency that specializes in vacations to Mexico, agrees.
"The all-inclusive resorts offer exceptional value for the vacation dollar, which is still important to American travelers as they emerge from the economic recession," he said.
While reports of drug-related killings and kidnappings continue along the border, most international tourists are avoiding that area, visiting beach resort towns instead, Sumano said.
The number of visitors to Cancún, the easternmost coastal city, jumped nearly 31 percent in August compared with a year earlier; tourism to Los Cabos, on the southern tip of Baja California, increased 30 percent, according to Mexico tourism officials.