Vacationers are rebooking vacations to Mexico as Caribbean tourist hotspots from Puerto Rico to the Virgin Islands struggle to rebuild after this fall’s devastating hurricanes, airline data shows.
From October through March 2018, U.S. and international airlines have cut more than 1.2 million seats to spots throughout the Caribbean, according to airline data analyzed by the aviation consultant ICF.
In the same period, the airlines have added more than 600,000 seats to Mexican tourist meccas such as Puerto Vallarta, Cabo San Lucas and Cancún.
The uptick is something of a turnaround for Mexico’s tourism industry, which has battled to overcome bad PR that came as violence related to the country’s ongoing drug war seeped into resort areas.
Murder rates in both Los Cabos and Cancún have skyrocketed in the last year, with a gunman killing five people at a music festival in January in Playa del Carmen and a gun battle erupting in August on a trendy beach in Los Cabos that left three dead.
The U.S. State Department, which updated its travel warning in late August, has warned Americans about the risks of going to “certain parts of Mexico due to the activities of criminal organizations in those areas.”
The warning stated: “U.S. citizens have been the victims of violent crimes, including homicide, kidnapping, carjacking and robbery in various Mexican states.”
Mexico’s drug war, which began in earnest in 2006 when then-President Felipe Calderón declared an all-out military offensive on the country’s narcrotraffickers, has left at least 200,000 dead.
Under President Enrique Peña Nieto, who came into office in 2012 at a time when violence was on the decline, the bloodshed has resumed. In June, Mexico had 2,566 homicides—the most since the Mexican government began releasing homicide figures in 2014.
The skyrocketing demand for heroin in the U.S. due to the opioid crisis – cartels are believed to make somewhere better $19 and $29 billion annually from the U.S. drug market – and the splintering of major drug trafficking organizations following the arrests or deaths of their leaders are believed to be the main factors for the spike in violence in places like Cancún and Los Cabos.
The arrest and extradition of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán to the United States has created an intense power struggle within the Sinaloa Cartel, once the country’s largest and most powerful drug trafficking organization.
Despite the spike in violence, both U.S. officials and experts in Mexico’s drug war note that cartel members rarely target tourists intentionally and, besides a few outlying incidents, violent crime tends to not occur in or near the resorts.
“Mexico has had major problems with violence for years, but tourism in the country is pretty resilient,” Christopher Wilson, the deputy director of the Mexico Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, told Fox News.
The hotel association for Cancún and Puerto Morelos is investing more than $520,000 in a new marketing campaign aimed at increasing the number of American tourists in the region.
Mexico also saw a record 35 million international travelers visit the country last year — a 9 percent jump compared to 2015. The Mexico Tourism Board aims to reach 50 million international visitors by 2021.
“Despite the warnings by the State Department and the reports of violence,” Wilson said, “the lure of the destination is strong enough and the threat of violence small enough that people will still go to Mexico."