Wave of violence threatens to shatter Cancun tourism bubble

Fifty years ago, the Mexican island of Cancún was home to a small fishing village and deserted beaches. Today, it’s one of Latin America’s most visited vacation destinations, with its shores teeming with hundreds of bathers, children playing in the white sands, and young tourists looking to party.

After being clubbed during the most intense times of the pandemic, tourism has roared back. Almost 20 million passengers have passed through Cancun airport so far this year. Unlike most competing destinations, in September, October and November it received more visitors than in the same months in 2019, and the hotel occupancy rate of 57% is better than that of the Caribbean, d ‘Hawaii or Bali, according to STR, a data analysis and analytics on hospitality. business.

In addition to year-round sunshine and inexpensive travel for those with dollars on it, it was aided by its proximity to the United States – whose citizens were behind the recent boom – and the fact that Mexico never closed its borders during the pandemic. It is still one of the few countries that does not require a Covid test to enter.

“It’s completely atypical in the context of the pandemic,” said Francisco Madrid, director of the Center for Research and Tourism Competitiveness at Anáhuac University in Mexico City. “Any country, any tourist destination would love to have results that. . . The beaches of Mexico have.

But the resort and its surroundings have also made headlines recently for the wrong reasons, as several violent incidents have burst the tourist bubble.

Last month, gunmen stormed the beach at the Hyatt Ziva just east of Cancun, in the heart of the hotel zone, and opened fire and killed suspected rival drug traffickers, sending tourists fleeing. to take shelter. Weeks earlier, two tourists were killed at a restaurant in Tulum, about 130 km south of Cancun, in a shootout between suspected rival gangs.

Tuesday morning men in jet ski opened fire on a beach in front of a Cancun hotel. No one was injured, authorities said.

Even amid Mexico’s high homicide rate, Quintana Roo, where Cancun is located, stands out. The homicide rate is 28 people per 100,000 so far this year in the southeastern state of Mexico, compared to a national average of 18.5 per 100,000.

The governor of Quintana Roo said two of the country’s largest drug groups, the Jalisco New Generation Cartel and the Sinaloa Cartel, operate in the state, drawn by the large market.

Executives of hotels in the area issued a scathing statement last month, attributing the recent violent incidents to fierce and ruthless fighting between gangs seeking to sell and distribute drugs in the area.

“With enormous astonishment, sadness and absolute dismay, we see that the violence continues to escalate,” said the Hotel Association of Cancun, Puerto Morelos and Isla Mujeres. “Tourism and economic recovery are hanging by a thread.

In response, the federal government last week launched a new tourist security battalion in the state with more than 1,400 National Guard troops.

“We are going to strengthen security, the presence of national security in the municipalities of Quintana Roo. . . People have died, Mexican and foreign, and it cannot happen again, ”Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said in November.

“It was my mother who made me aware of it,” said Sharif LaPalma, a two-time Argentine-American citizen, vacationing with friends from high school on the beach in Puerto Morelos, just south of Cancun. “The act of seeing. . . the army people in the streets make you realize ‘OK, something is going on here’, but we haven’t experienced anything.

Although tourist areas are generally very safe, nearly 85% of Cancun residents say they feel unsafe in the city, far more than most cities in the country, according to a survey by the government statistics agency INEGI.

Extortion is also a big deal for local businesses, although it is not openly discussed. A shopkeeper near the beach said criminals repeatedly demanded extortion payments but just hung up and managed to keep them at bay for the time being.

“When they come and extort me, I will close,” said the person, who declined to give his name for fear of reprisal.

Despite the deteriorating security environment, tourists know that if they stay in the hotel zone, everything will be fine.

“Where we come from is worse. . . there is no comparison, ”said Héctor, a tourist from Monterrey. “All the tourists I have met do not leave the hotel zone. . . They know it’s dangerous.

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