The last day of work before the long Easter Weekend break usually brings a sigh of relief and excitement to students and professionals alike. For many people north of the border, the long weekend is a perfect opportunity to travel down south to second homes in Baja California, or visit other prime beach locations in Mexico. This is usually around the time when the United States Department of State decides to update its travel warning and scare potential tourists into avoiding parts of Mexico, resulting in tourists that may be unfamiliar with Mexico to decide to avoid visiting all together.
Although the State Department apparently missed the opportunity to scare potential visitors to Mexico this time (their last Mexico Travel Warning was updated on January 9, 2014 is still in effect), it is not uncommon for media outlets to hype even the smallest uptick in violence in Mexico to scare spring breakers into not leaving their front yard. Even a decrease in violence doesn't deter media outlets from implementing anti-Mexico scare tactics.
A month before the Spring Break holiday, articles start slowly creeping into our newsfeeds. On March 19, 2014, exactly a month before the Easter weekend, Forbes published an article entitled "Is Mexico Safe to Visit for Spring Break?".
The author spoke about armed guards riding in the back of Coca-Cola trucks in Acapulco, and 2,000 murders in Guerrero, the most violent state in 2013. The article contrasted the good and the bad of Mexico in an effort to caution tourists to visit Mexico, but stay away from Guerrero and Michoacán and opt for Cancun, Mexico City, and Oaxaca instead. While the article may intend to shed a positive light on travel to Mexico, a reader that is unfamiliar with Mexico would most likely be terrified of visiting all together.
On a similar note, and hopefully merely as a coincidence, the Union Tribune published just yesterday an article entitled "Mexico Report Details Crime Tied to Cartels", discussing a semi-annual report published by the University of San Diego entitled "Drug Violence in Mexico". The timing of this report, three days before spring break, may not have been on purpose, but the coverage's effect on tourism is likely perfectly timed to deter potential spring breakers from heading south. Particularly damaging is the assertion that in 2013, of all Mexican states, Baja California presented the highest rate of increased homicides-an increase of 31% from 2012.
According to the report, Tijuana in particular saw and increase of homicides from 320 to 492 in 2013, just behind Acapulco at 883. In the article, Dr. Shirk, an author of the report does balance the fearful numbers by emphasizing that considering the volume of visitors there is little cause for concern for tourists. But you would only know this if you read past the headline and most media outlets' talking points that replicate this information will likely remove this reasoning from the mix and the message will end up being "Baja California is second most dangerous state. Acapulco takes first place".
The lack of perspective has always been a point of contention for those who live and frequent Mexico, and specifically Baja California. If Tijuana had a murder rate of 492 in 2013 that doesn't sound as alarming if we also mention that Chicago's number of murders for 2013 was 412, and there were 332 murders in New York and Detroit. Also, let's consider the fact that 2013 saw a decrease in violence for these cities compared to 2012 by at least 10 percent (according to the FBI's published statistics).
Mexico has declared a War on Drugs, and drug related violence is to be expected. Yet numbers in New York, Chicago, and Detroit are just the result of every day homicides, and presumably present more risk to the public at large (including tourists) than cartel violence presents to tourists in Mexico, which is usually pretty targeted in the drug sector. Regardless, the numbers in these cities are not too far off from Tijuana's numbers. Travel warnings have a huge impact on tourism, especially when timed before important holidays. What would happen if Mexico issued its own travel advisories against visiting New York, the week before the ball drops on New Year's Eve?
The Mexico Travel Warning posted this January is still in effect. Some might argue that these are just telling U.S. travelers to be careful when travelling to Mexico. But, the warning's language says "we want you to know the risks of traveling to these places and to strongly consider not going to them at all". A statement like that does more than caution, it scares. Countries like Ukraine, Sudan, Pakistan, Libya, and Syria are also on the same list.
Our takeaway is that media outlets and the general public have a responsibility to ensure that we are not pushing sensationalist headlines that incorrectly cause prospective tourists from visiting all of the beautiful attractions Mexico has to offer. Yes, drug violence exists and we must be careful. But, for the most part, the people that are affected are usually not innocent bystanders. As long as you stay out of hotspots like Michoacán and Guerrero, act smart, and treat this country with respect, you should be fine. You are guaranteed to have a great time as well.