What Mexican drug war? Spring-break students defy travel warnings.
Universities and the US government warned American students about the risks of travel in Mexico. But Cancún numbers are off only slightly.
(Page 2 of 2)
Some schools urged students to stay away altogether. "Every student should be aware that Mexico in general has seen a marked increase in violence recently," read a University of Arizona statement released in February. "Due to these circumstances, the University of Arizona Dean of Students Office strongly advises students to avoid travel to Mexico at this time and during Spring Break."Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
"It's the first time we've recommended to students that they not travel there," says Johnny Cruz, a university spokesperson.
Samantha Fallon, a sophomore at the University of Arizona, was signed up with a travel agency to go camping on an island in the Sea of Cortez. But, she says, that under pressure from the school, the trip was canceled. "I was disappointed. I didn't want the drug war or violence to stop me from having a trip of a lifetime. We were going sea kayaking, cliff jumping, and swimming with dolphins." Instead, she took a road trip through California with some friends. "We saw tons of U of A friends doing the same thing."
While most of the violence has taken place elsewhere, the beach resorts are not entirely isolated from it. In recent years, Acapulco has seen decapitations and gun fights in plain daylight. In Cancún, a retired army general sent to root out corruption in a police force allegedly infiltrated by drug traffickers was recently tortured and shot to death.
Tourism officials are trying to fight back. The Cancún Hotel Association launched a campaign this month, including a YouTube video of American tourists enjoying the area. "We didn't want us telling you Americans how great it is, we wanted you telling each other," says Rodrigo de la Pena, the president of the Cancún Hotel Association.
Tourism grew last year in Mexico, fueling a $13 billion a year industry that is crucial to the economy, but the numbers are down slightly. Cancún expects 22,000 spring breakers this year, down from 26,000 the year before. Occupancy rates are down through mid-March at 79.2 percent this year, compared with 84.6 percent in the same period last year, says Mr. de la Pena. He blames it on the economic situation in the US, not on violence.
Most spring breakers, from Washington State to Wales, say they understand that most violence occurs between drug traffickers. Still, Heidi Frawley, a freshman at Mt. Hood Community College in Oregon, says that she has decided to stay put in the major cities, like Cancún, instead of exploring smaller towns. She adds that the worst experience for her thus far has been police corruption and bribe-seeking.