- A shootout Monday at Mexico City's international airport left three dead
- Many tourists already bypass the airport as they head to resort destinations
- Despite violence, many areas of Mexico are still safe, travel agents say
While Mexico's drug wars have ravaged some regions and claimed thousands of lives, most of the country's tourist sites have remained relatively unscathed.
A shootout at Mexico City's international airport may give U.S. travelers further pause about visiting the beautiful, troubled country. On Monday, federal police officers under investigation for drug trafficking opened fire on fellow officers at Benito Juárez International Airport, killing three, officials said.
Americans have visited Mexico more than any other foreign country for more than two decades: 16 million Americans in 1990 and 20 million in 2010, according to the Department of Commerce's Office of Travel and Tourism Industries.
As drug violence has escalated over the past few years, travel agents have tried to reassure U.S. citizens that it's still safe to visit Mexico's famous beaches, artist colonies and archaeological sites. Aside from the February robbery of a bus carrying Carnival Cruise ship guests during a shore excursion, that has mostly been true.
"I've always advised people to be careful in Mexico City, and I've tried to avoid transferring planes there" because of the hassle and bad connections, said travel agent Marianne Braly. "I'd rather put them on a nonstop or an American carrier transferring (to Cancun) in Houston or Dallas. I will continue to avoid the Mexico City airport, for an additional reason. ... Now it's possibly unsafe."
Travelers wouldn't fly through the Mexico City airport to get to popular locations such as Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan or Puerto Vallarta, said Braly, owner of Now Voyager Travel in Huntington Beach, California. "My personal experience is that every place I send people in Mexico, there's never been a problem."
Journey Mexico founder and owner Zachary Rabinor has gotten a few concerned calls but no cancellations since Monday's shooting.
"It's hard to tell people not to be concerned about this type of thing, but I think (the Mexico City airport) would be more safe now than it has been in the past," Rabinor said. "There's no need to cancel."
Most AAA customers visiting Mexico tend to travel to popular destinations such as Cancun, Cozumel and the Rivera Maya, according to AAA spokeswoman Cyndie Brough. "Most of our customers don't fly through or to Mexico City," she said. "It's more of a business destination for a lot of U.S. businesspeople."
A travel agent can help you keep on top of breaking news and make any changes to your travel plans, Brough said. She also suggests checking U.S. Department of State warnings and registering with the federal agency's Smart Traveler Enrollment Program when you travel abroad. That way, the U.S. government knows where you are in an emergency. And remember to carry local U.S. Embassy or consulate contact information with you.
More than 47,500 people have died in drug-related violence throughout Mexico since December 2006, when President Felipe Calderon announced plans to deploy troops in efforts to combat drug cartels. Yet murder rates in Mexico City are half the national rate of 18 per 100,000 residents and are lower than homicide rates in U.S. cities like New Orleans and Washington.
The suffering in the country of her birth saddens Viridiana Abernethy, who married a U.S. citizen a few years ago and lives in Arlington, Texas. "Mexico is such a beautiful country with a lot of nice places, and people are fantastic," Abernethy wrote in an email.
"It saddens me that many of the good people are suffering the loss of their jobs because tourists won't visit their cities. I know it's frightening, but we can't live in hiding and submit to fear."
Would you still travel to Mexico? Do you travel to other places where your safety might be at risk? If so, what do you do to protect yourself?