Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Mexico a safe destination -- but travel smart

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There is no single question posed to me on an ongoing basis more than this one: "Is it still safe to travel to Mexico?

It seems like every month we hear about another Canadian who was assaulted in some way while living in or visiting Mexico. Coverage of each of these events is massive, with followup stories occupying pages of newspapers and hours of television coverage.

Official government warnings tell people to avoid visiting a dozen or more states where drug wars have seen hundreds of locals murdered.

It's all enough to frighten even the most fearless of traveller.

A recent headline screamed out the results of a study that reported more than 70 per cent of Canadians expressed hesitancy about visiting those same tourist areas that have drawn thousands of Canadian visitors annually for decades.

But talk with people who have visited Mexico and you will likely find an entirely different reaction.

They will often express their commitment to return, and try to put the publicity and the actual events into, what they consider to be, a reasonable and proper framework.

Is Mexico receiving a bum rap because of all the negative publicity leveled at it? Is the crime against Canadians who visit the country higher than others? Here are some facts:

Last year six Canadians were murdered in all of Mexico, plus about 50 more assaults.

In Winnipeg during the same year we had 39 homicides with assaults too numerous to mention.

In Mexico eighty per cent of homicides can be attributed to organized criminal gangs and take place in fewer than six per cent of the regions.

While it can be argued that the rate of incidents has increased, Mexico statistics for crime against Canadians is actually not that far off those of many other countries we visit.

And according to homicide studies undertaken by the United Nations in 2010, Mexico, in statistics relating to homicides per 100,000 people, fared better than many other popular tourist destinations including the Dominican Republic, Saint Lucia, Panama, Jamaica, and the Bahamas.

All this is not to whitewash Mexico completely, or suggest we should throw caution to the winds as we plan our vacations.

The country needs to do a better job of investigating and communicating when incidents do occur. It needs to step up tourist security in certain areas. But the same can be said about many of those other destinations referenced, where crime is a fact of travel from time to time.

I hold no fervent desire to save Mexican tourism at all costs so travel agents and agencies can continue to prosper.

There is no need to do that.

Should client response indicate increasing aversion to Mexico, it is absolutely certain tour operators will shift to other attractive alternatives in the Caribbean. The demand for sun spot travel will always be strong from a cold-weather province like Manitoba. These companies will always be there to provide travel agents and their customers with the options they desire.

But Mexico is simple too good a vacation destination to pass up. It has a well-developed tourist infrastructure; the people are friendly and appreciate the jobs tourism brings. The resort areas are varied and offer visitors multiple choices year after year.

The weather is stable and the service at most resorts is exemplary.

Notwithstanding some of the legitimate publicity around negative events, there is a sense of excessive 'piling on' by the national media whenever there is a newsworthy occurrence in that country.

A year ago my own daughter was vacationing with her husband and two children at a five-star resort in another country Manitobans visit in high numbers.

Thieves, with guns in hand, entered the expansive lobby area with the intent of holding up the front desk, while dozens of guests, including my family looked on nearby.

This traumatic experience ended with one of the employees being shot in the back.

This event, even though it was at a high-end resort loaded with Canadians, warranted nary a single paragraph in Canadian media. Why not? Because it was a local who was shot, the story had no resonance in Canada.

Yet those who were in the vicinity raced wildly to find a safe haven in a resort that suddenly seemed to have shrunk in size dramatically.

In 2012 it is estimated that more that two million Canadians will have visited Mexico.

This is more than to any other destination by far, with the exception of our U.S. neighbours to the south.

It is natural that some crime will occur. And because we most often travel to countries like Mexico, where poverty is prominent, bad things happen when visitors undertake foolish practices; like ostentatious displays of wealth, or associating themselves with excessive alcohol consumption and late-night carousing. Some have clashed with police and other authority figures while under the influence, leading to serious charges and the occasional beating.

Travellers need to take precautions which otherwise wouldn't be as necessary at home.

Mexico is an exceptional country to visit. It would be too bad if we chose to avoid this favoured nation because of a lack of perspective of its general safety for tourists.

Forward your travel questions to askjourneys@journeystravel.com Ron Pradinuk is president of Journeys Travel & Leisure SuperCentre and can be heard Sundays at noon on CJOB. Previous columns and tips can be found on www.journeystravelgear.com or read Ron's travel blog at www.thattravelguy.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 25, 2012 D6

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