Violence in Cancun, other hotspots threatens Mexico's tourism in - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Violence in Cancun, other hotspots threatens Mexico's tourism industry

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Tourists taking the ferry from this tourist town to the island of Cozumel now walk down a wharf lined with police, heavily armed soldiers and bomb-sniffing dogs.

Those safeguards came after a Feb. 21 explosion ripped through one of the ferries, injuring 24 people, including five Americans. Explosives were later found on another ferry owned by the same company.

“It’s something that makes you feel safer,” Roberto Cintrón, president of the Cancún hotel owners’ association, said about the soldiers and security after a recent ferry ride to Cozumel. “It’s the complete opposite situation of the insecurity many people think of.”

Numerous reports about crime and tourist tragedies have made recent headlines as the violence plaguing this country erupts in cities popular with foreign visitors.

Incidents causing concern in Cancún and outlying Quintana Roo state range from bars allegedly serving adulterated liquor to unsuspecting tourists to police targeting visitors in rental cars for bribes.

vacationing Iowa family of four was found dead March 23 in a condo in Tulum on the Caribbean coast. Authorities suspect the cause was a gas leak from a faulty water heater

Violence in resort cities such as Cancún, Playa del Carmen (in Quintana Roo state) and Los Cabos resembles the rest of the country, but it threatens Mexico’s lucrative tourism industry.

“The common thread in Los Cabos and Quintana Roo is the public security system had been totally dismantled,” said Francisco Rivas, director of the National Citizen Observatory, which monitors security issues in Mexico. “There were prosecutor's offices that didn't investigate and police that couldn't prevent or react to crime.”

Analysts offer a variety of explanations for the rising crime across Mexico, from drug cartels to the U.S. opioid crisis prompting cartels to switch from growing marijuana to producing heroin.

Mexico had the most murders on record in 2017, with 29,158 homicides. The homicide rate in the first two months of 2018 was already up 21% over the same period last year.

The U.S. State Department in January issued a strict travel advisory for five Mexican states, including Guerrero, home to Acapulco and Ixtapa. The “do not travel to” advisory put the states of Sinaloa, Colima, Michoacán, Guerrero and Tamaulipas (on the Texas border) on the same level as war-torn countries like Syria.

Mexico’s Tourism Secretariat said the advisory was based on crime statistics and atrocities “not related to incidents that directly affected foreign visitors.”

The secretariat noted the list did not include Mexico's five biggest tourist destinations: Cancún, the Mayan Riviera, Los Cabos, Puerto Vallarta-Riviera Nayarit and Mexico City.

The U.S. government closed its consular agency here in Playa del Carmen in early March, citing a security threat after the ferry explosion, but service has since resumed. Mexican authorities said the explosion was unrelated to organized crime.

Cintrón, the hotelier, said violence strikes overwhelmingly in areas not visited by tourists. Hotel occupancy hovers at 83%, roughly the same as the same time last year, he said.

“This is not happening in tourist areas,” Cintrón said. “There have been cases, we can’t deny that” in the tourist areas, he added, “But it’s something very targeted” and not putting tourists at risk.

Mexico welcomed nearly 40 million foreign visitors in 2017, and tourism accounts for 8% of the country’s GDP. Tourist hotspots also attract millions of Mexicans seeking jobs.

“There’s lots of work here ...… and it pays better,” said Fabiola López, a waitress who moved to Playa del Carmen from Chiapas, Mexico’s poorest state. “I was able to buy a house.”

Tourists often ask about security, said Israel Uribe, a concierge in Playa del Carmen. After a shootout on the tourist strip here in early 2017, his bosses instructed him, “Don’t say anything” when asked about security.

Some in this region support the U.S. tourist advisory, saying that's the only way the Mexican government will take security issues seriously.

“This is something that will open our government’s eyes, that the threat here is real," said Daniel Villaseñor Pérez, a lawyer and community activist in Cancún.

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