Mexico Enjoys Tourism Boom Despite Drug Violence, Rising Crime

Mark Browne | June 8, 2016 | 7:37pm EDT
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The cruise ship Carnival Magic passes near Cozumel in Mexico in this October 2014 file photo. (AP Photo/Angel Castellanos, File)

Mexico City ( – Despite rising crime and an international reputation for widespread narcotics trafficking violence, Americans are choosing to vacation in Mexico more than ever before.

Mexico is enjoying a tourism boom. More than 5.6 million foreigners chose to visit Mexico during the first quarter of this year, an increase of more than half a million compared to the same period a year ago, according to recent statistics from Mexico’s federal tourism authority.

The majority of tourists who chose to travel to Mexico from January to April of this year were from the United States – 3.4 million, a 14.7 percent increase over the same period a year ago, the authority said.

Mexico’s popularity as a tourist destination is growing internationally, as well, with first-quarter 2016 increases in visits over the same period a year ago of 36.4 percent from China, 16.7 percent from Germany, and 14.5 percent for Japan.

Mexico’s popularity among American and international visitors is growing despite rising crime rates.

A State Department advisory updated in April warned Americans about travel to certain parts of Mexico, saying U.S. citizens have been the victims of violent crimes including homicide, kidnapping, carjacking and robbery by organized criminal groups in various states. No advisory was in effect in 12 of Mexico’s 31 states or the Mexico City federal district.

According to a citizens’ watchdog group that monitors the number of crime investigations by Mexican authorities nationally, crime in Mexico continues to grow.

Observatorio Nacional Ciudadano reported in February that preliminary investigations for first-degree murder were up by 9.5 percent, kidnappings by 14 percent, violent robbery by 12 percent and car theft by 10 percent.

The state of Guerrero, home to the well-known Pacific Ocean resort city of Acapulco, has the highest homicide rate in the country. The state of Jalisco, home to another popular Pacific resort town, Puerto Vallarta, had the fifth highest first-degree homicide investigation rate in Mexico as of February.

Crime statistics in Mexico are notoriously difficult to verify since most crimes are never reported to the authorities.

But regardless of Mexico’s poor reputation for safety and a government war on drug traffickers that has been blamed for more than 60,000 deaths in the past ten years, international cruise ships are anchoring in Mexico’s ports like never before.

In fact, the Mexican Caribbean island of Cozumel is on its way to becoming the top cruising destination worldwide, according to the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association.

“Our reports from FCCA member lines indicate that Cozumel will edge out Nassau as the world’s leading cruise destination this year, with 3.39 million passenger arrivals, almost one million more than the 2.51 million in 2011,” FCCA President Michele M. Paige said in an email.

She noted that Mexico has seen a 44 percent increase in visits by cruise line passengers in the past three years alone, with 6.12 million expected to disembark on Mexico’s shores this year.

Some 750 cruise ships anchored in Mexican ports in March of this year alone, carrying 940,000 passengers, according to government statistics.

The coast of Quintana Roo state on the Caribbean, home to Cancun and a string of resorts and popular destinations like Tulum to the south, hosts more cruise ship visits than any other part of Mexico, according to the FCCA, with 600,000 passenger visits expected in 2016.

That may have something to do with the fact that Mexico’s east coast, bordering the Caribbean, has lower crime rates than most of the rest of the country, according to national statistics.

“Cancun is the most popular destination in Mexico for Americans,” observed Alejandro Alvarado, a spokesman for the Mexican Association of Hotels and Motels. Cancun’s airport, he noted, is the country’s second largest.

Foreign tourists also favor Puerto Vallarta, and the growing resort area known as the Riviera Nayarit to the north, he said.

Increased room occupancy rates also reflect Mexico’s tourism boom.

Hotel bookings in Mexico grew by 5.5 percent in March over the same period last year, boosting occupancy rates to their highest levels in three years, according to the government’s tourism authority.

Occupancy rates at 70 destinations in Mexico averaged 61 percent during the first quarter of this year, according to government statistics with the highest rates seen in Quintana Roo at 88 percent, according to a report by Mexico Daily News.

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