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Will resort tourists keep coming as Mexican violence spreads?

By Rafael Romo, CNN Senior Latin American Affairs Editor
Two youngsters enjoy the beach in Acapulco on August 24, 2010.
Two youngsters enjoy the beach in Acapulco on August 24, 2010.
  • More than 30 people have been killed in Acapulco, Mexico's tourist hot spot
  • The Mexican government says it is dealing with a turf war among drug cartels
  • The Mexico Tourism Board said tourism has not been affected

(CNN) -- It's one of the most famous tourist destinations in Mexico.

Acapulco, a beach resort in the Mexican Riviera, welcomes hundreds of thousands of international tourists every year. Its warm and humid climate, with temperatures ranging from 72 to 91 degrees Fahrenheit, have made it a favorite for generations.

The Mexican Ministry of Tourism describes Acapulco as "one of Mexico's most important and famous beach resorts." It also terms the nightlife "unbeatable" and calls the city one of the "hottest playgrounds among Mexican vacation destinations."

This week, Acapulco, in the Mexican state of Guerrero, is making headlines after a wave of violence that left more than 30 people dead in only four days, including at least 15 beheadings.

Violence threatens Mexican tourist spot
  • Mexico

The bodies of decapitated men between the ages of 25 and 30 were left outside the Plaza Senderos shopping center last Saturday. Although not frequented by tourists, Plaza Senderos is only 10 miles by car from the upscale hotel area known as Punta Diamante, or Diamond Point.

The following day, six men were found shot to death inside a taxi cab. Two had been mutilated. Oscar Gatica, a spokesman with the Guerrero Department of Public Safety, said all of the murders had "the signs of organized crime."

The Mexican government says it is dealing with a turf war among drug cartels.

National security spokesman Alejandro Poire says that the recent violence is "a clear example that violence originates in wars between criminal organizations and the action, or inaction of local authorities. That's precisely why it's crucial to reinforce the federal presence."

Local authorities say the Sinaloa drug cartel is fighting the criminal organizations of "La Familia" and "Los Zetas" for control of drug routes in and around Acapulco and the state of Guerrero. Joaquin Guzman-Loera, the leader of the Sinaloa drug cartel, appeared in the list of the most powerful people in the world published by Forbes. Guzman-Loera, also known as "El Chapo" (Shorty), was No. 60 and his fortune is estimated at $1 billion, according to Forbes.

Last October, 20 Mexican tourists from the nearby state of Michoacan, with no known connections to organized crime, were abducted in Acapulco. A mass grave was found a month later near the beach resort.

Local officials say they're facing an uphill battle against organized crime.

"We are focused on combating organized crime and criminals, but they are ahead of us because they operate using the surprise factor. They act with premeditation," says David Sotelo, Guerrero attorney general.

As relatives of the most recent victims bury their dead, many wonder how deeply the recent wave of violence will affect this top tourist destination and Mexico in general. Tourism has traditionally been one of the top revenue generators of the Mexican economy.

The numbers, so far, appear to be holding up. According to the Mexico Tourism Board, nearly 5.4 million Americans traveled south in the 11 months ending November last year. That was an 11 percent jump from the same time period the previous year, according to the board.

Altogether, Mexico received 8.2 million international visitors by air in the first 10 months of 2010 (both business and leisure travel). The figure represents a 17.8 percent increase from 2009.

The increase though may seem less dramatic when considering the slow, but steady, economic recovery in the United States, but at least tourists aren't staying away from Mexico in large numbers -- yet.

CNN's Krupskaia Alis in Mexico City contributed to this report