Canadians flock to Mexico despite violence

Sheena Goodyear, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 5:31 PM ET

Amidst countless reports of drug-related murders, assaults and rapes in Mexico, it's still a top tourist destination for Canadians.

Tourism officials say that's because Mexico provides an affordable and enjoyable getaway, and violence in the country is mostly limited to gangs, not tourists and civilians.

“These very few instances we have experienced in Mexico in proportion to the number of tourists that we get is very small,” Rodolfo Lopez Negrete, chief operating officer of Mexican Tourism Board, told QMI Agency.

According to Mexico's embassy in Canada, a record number of Canadians visited the North American country in 2010, despite government warnings not to travel there.

Last year, Mexico saw 1,460,418 Canadian tourists, up 19.4% from 2009 and 28.52% from 2008. Canada made up Mexico's second-biggest batch of tourists, just behind the U.S.

But some Canadian tourists over the last year or so never made it back home, or if they did, it was with serious injuries and horror stories to accompany them.

An elderly B.C. man was caught in the middle of gunfire in Mazatlan, Mexico, in January while he was visiting a market with his wife. Mike DiLorenzo, 69, suffered from a gunshot wound to the leg.

A woman from from Ontario alleges Mexican police gang-raped her while she and her husband were vacationing in Playa del Carmen on New Year's Eve. She also alleges they beat her husband.

In early February, a gang of Mexican bikers beat a Montreal cop who was vacationing in the country.

On Halloween, Ottawa's Daniel Dion, 51, was discovered dead in the trunk of his burned-out rental car in Chilpancingo.

In November five Canadian tourists died in a hotel explosion on a Mexian resort. Authorities maintain the blast was an accident and not an attack.

Both the U.S. and Canadian governments have urged people not to vacation in the increasingly violent region.

“Canadians should avoid crossing Mexico’s northern border by land, as shootouts, attacks, and illegal roadblocks may occur at any time,” reads a statement from Foreign Affairs.

However, only 3% of Canadians entered Mexico by crossing the land border, while 97% travelled by air.

“Mexico is a safe destination, particularly when you're referring to the major tourism destinations across the country,” Negrete said.

“Canadians who are very experienced travellers ... they understand very clearly that the violence we have had in Mexico is gang-related. It's gangs against gangs, and not aimed at the Mexican population and not at all at the tourists.”

What's more, the parity of the Canadian dollar to the Mexican peso makes visiting the sun-soaked country a cost-effective vacation, Negrete said.

Both airlines and resorts have offered up cheap rates to Mexico in recent years.

Negrete said major airlines like SunWing, Air Canada, Westjet and Transat all offer between 51 and 77 flights to various Mexican locations every week.

What's more, the Mexican Tourism Board has upped its advertising in Canada over the last few, with very positive results.

“But to be perfectly honest, more important is the customer satisfaction that we're receiving with the Canadian consumer,” said Negrete, noting of the 26,000 U.S. and Canadian tourists surveyed by the board, 97% said they would come back again.

“The wealth and the array of cultural and archaeological ... features that we offer in Mexico makes it a wonderful experience for the consumer, and I think the Canadian consumer is very attracted to that.”

Mexico has pumped more than $500 million US into its tourism sector since 2006.

- With files from Jorge Contreras, Tony Speaks, Justin Sadler, Doug

Hempstead and Jessica Murphy


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