LAS VEGAS — The gruesome headlines from Mexico’s drug war may be the stuff of nightmares, but there is little sign the millions of foreign tourists who visit the country each year are losing much sleep over it.
Not only has international tourism not suffered in Mexico because of the violence, the number of travelers was up 12.4 percent in the first quarter of the year, Mexico’s tourism minister said Wednesday.
US, Canadian and European airlines are adding capacity to meet the demand, and Mexico is experiencing big jumps in tourism from places like Brazil and China that until recently were not on its radar.
And yet at the same time parts of the country have seen extraordinarily high levels of violence as drug cartels fight over turf and with government forces. More than 34,000 people have been killed over the past five years.
Kidnappings of busloads of migrants, discoveries of hundreds of bodies in mass graves, daily assassinations have dominated the news from Mexico, prompting an expanded US travel warning in April.
“We have a challenge. We acknowledge that,” said Tourism Minister Gloria Guevara in an interview with AFP. “But at the same time that challenge is remote and far away from touristic destinations.”
She said drug-related violence has occurred in just 80 of the country’s 2,500 municipalities, most of them around three cities along the country’s northern border with the United States.
“The reality is that Mexico is a large country, it has a lot of cities,” said Guevara, speaking on the sidelines of a Global Travel and Tourism Summit here.
“As in the US, if something happens in Las Vegas, does that mean we’re not going to go to New York? Of course not,” she said.
Most of Mexico’s 22.4 million international visitors go to the Cancun, Costa Maya, Cozumel area (43 percent). Another 14 percent go to the Cabo area in Baja California; 14 percent to Mexico City; and 10 percent to Puerto Vallarta.
Some 51 million daytrippers are still crossing the border each year to shop and play in Mexico, and then going back home at night.
Of the longer term visitors, most fly to Mexico but a significant proportion also enter by land to tourist destinations.