Is Tulum safe for Spring Break? The latest US update for Holy Week 2023

July 23, 2024
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Is Tulum safe for Spring Break? The latest US update for Holy Week 2023

Is Tulum safe for Spring Break? The latest US update for Holy Week 2023

Is Tulum safe for Spring Break? The latest US update for Holy Week 2023

The information circulated quickly and widely after the U.S. State Department on March 13 published a spring break travel advice advising visitors to Mexico to exercise extreme caution.

The tragic kidnapping of four American medical tourists in early March in Matamoros, close to the Texas border, where two of them were later discovered dead, was one of many terrifying tales of illegal drugs and gang activity that news sources circulated as justifications for rethinking travel plans.

“It’s like clockwork,” says Zachary Rabinor, the U.S. founder of travel agency Journey Mexico. “Every year before spring break we have the same wave of sensationalism. People need eyeballs, and what better way than scaremongering? In some ways, it’s the clearest sign yet that we’re done worrying about the pandemic.”

He claims that since last October, the State Department has not updated its travel advisories for Mexico; instead, the updates have focused on new public health information rather than criminal activity. The spring break advisory, meantime, cautions tourists to be aware of a number of issues: the list of 10 topics includes everything from drug use to the possibility of drowning.

Is Tulum safe for Spring Break? The latest US update for Holy Week 2023

Given that “violence, including violent crime, can occur everywhere in Mexico, even in major tourist destinations,” it advises Americans to “exercise additional vigilance in downtown sections of popular spring break resorts, including Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and Tulum, especially after dark.” It doesn’t matter that it can happen everywhere else in the world as well.

“Most of Mexico remains on a Level 2 warning, which is the same that applies to countries such as France, Spain, Italy and more,” says Rabinor.

Understanding the U.S. Warnings About Mexico: What You Need to Know

Mexico is a large and varied country, not a monolithic destination. The most common spring break locations, in the states of Quintana Roo (Cancun, Tulum, Playa del Carmen) and Baja California Sur (Los Cabos), are currently classified by the U.S. State Department at a Level 2 standard; the states of Oaxaca and Mexico City are also classified at that level.

While only a small number of destinations worldwide are considered Level 1, meaning travelers should “take normal precautions,” two Mexican states qualify as such: Yucatan and Campeche. You can visit the former if you are planning a trip to Mérida.

Seven of Mexico’s 32 states are classified as Level 3 – “reconsider travel” – while another six are listed under the U.S. State Department’s Level 4 warning – “do not travel.” The department attributes those 13 state designations to widespread criminal activity and kidnapping risks (Matamoros is in Tamaulipas, one of the Level 4 states).

Is Tulum safe for Spring Break? The latest US update for Holy Week 2023

“Nothing has changed radically in terms of travel. The tourist areas (Oaxaca, the Pacific coast, Mexico City, Yucatan) are protected, like islands, and do not follow the trends you see in Tamaulipas, Michoacan, etc.,” says Romain Le Cour, a part-time resident of Mexico, who as Global Initiative’s senior expert conducts research on organized crime. “He argues that the alerts help the U.S. government channel a warning to Mexican authorities: essentially saying, ‘The U.S. may not prevent tourism right now, but we can escalate these warnings, so pay attention.'”

For his part, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has been eager to send a message in return. On March 13, he criticized the State Department’s warnings as “vile,” saying that “Mexico is safer than the United States and there is no security problem that prevents travel.”

Rabinor, who splits his time between Mexico and New York, reads between the lines. “The reason we get these new notices in the spring of every year is because there are waves of American college students who fall down and do stupid things,” he posits. “The government’s goal is to minimize that stupidity by getting parents involved, so that they encourage their kids to behave with the same amount of idiocy that they live with on a day-to-day basis on a college campus.”

Stoking Fear in Tourists: The Impact of Sensationalist Headlines

Is Tulum safe for Spring Break? The latest US update for Holy Week 2023

Is it safe to travel to Tulum right now? searches on Google have increased by 200% over the past month. Also, according to Google Trends data, searches for travel inspiration to Mexico decreased in popularity by 75% in the week after the Matamoros incident in early March. They have been deteriorating ever since. It’s a method of estimating the impact that bad news can have on Mexico’s tourist industry, which, according to official data, generates roughly 8% of the nation’s GDP and 8.8% of the nation’s jobs.

“We’re seeing cancellations and we’re doing everything we can to clear up the confusion,” says Steph Farr, co-owner of Maya Luxe, a villa agency that manages 100 exceptional homes in the Riviera Maya. “But it’s easier said than done. Some people have already made up their minds, and we’ve lost business as a result.”

What she describes is not a large-scale loss of business, but significant disruption: Farr says her sales team recorded at least eight canceled bookings in February, all responding to State Department security warnings even before the Matamoros incident brought Mexico’s security more fully into the news cycle. (More recent figures were unavailable.)

“Even the most educated and erudite people respond to these advisories,” Rabinor says. “Fear is an emotional response, and we have been inundated with worry and anxiety.”

Calculating the impact on business, he says, is complicated. “We can’t measure the loss of people who never called, who simply decided to go to Yosemite, Florida or the Caribbean.” (Even many popular Caribbean destinations are also considered Level 2, including the Bahamas, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Turks and Caicos.)

Tourists Least Concerned About Safety? A Surprising Look into Traveler Attitudes

Is Tulum safe for Spring Break? The latest US update for Holy Week 2023

Other travel advisors report that their clients are unfazed. “I think people are over the sensationalism,” says Jack Ezon, co-founder of travel agency Embark Beyond. “Americans are numb-it’s almost a new perspective since COVID.” Before, he would have expected to be busy fielding calls about security concerns and counting cancellations. Now, says Ezon, “we’ve seen nothing, not a single hesitation.”

The same is true, he adds, in Paris, Israel and Turkey, where political instability and earthquakes have been in the news.

Rabinor offers a strong reminder: while his company’s bottom line depends on sending travelers to Mexico, it depends even more on ensuring the safety of its guests and staff. “We would be the first to use a contingency plan or advise a change in itinerary if there were any risk, both to our staff and guests,” he explains.

Alyson Nash, travel designer for Cloud 10, an agency affiliated with Virtuoso, says she has received many calls from travelers who have kept Mexico on their short lists, particularly for year-end vacation travel. Crime, he says, registers as only an occasional concern, outweighed by inflation and increases in taxes, room rates. “Any hesitation,” Nash adds, “tends to be less about safety and more about the surrounding price.”

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