In mid-April, The U.S. State Department issued a travel warning citing health and safety concerns for U.S. citizens traveling to Mexico. This is not the first warning but an extension prompted by increasing violence across Mexico, particularly in its northern border cities. The current warning will be in effect through May 12, although it is likely another warning will be issued at that time.
“While millions of U.S. citizens safely visit Mexico each year, violence in the country has increased,” according to a statement posted on the U.S. State Department Web site. “It is imperative that U.S. citizens understand the risks in Mexico, how best to avoid dangerous situations.”
Such warnings frustrate Patricia Farias Barlow, president and CEO of Farias Global Expos/Messe Dusseldorf AV Mexico. Barlow has more than 30 years experience in the Mexican tradeshow industry and is a former chairman of International Association for Exposition Management.
“The unsafeness of Mexico is largely exaggerated by the U.S. press and this has affected general travel and business travel to the country,” Farias said. “It is necessary to point out that Mexico is not as unsafe as most Americans would think. If we look at crime statistics per capita of cities like Detroit, New Orleans and even Washington D.C., they are much higher than in any city in Mexico.”
However, Jeffrey Hannah, president of Nuance International, is concerned for his safety when traveling to Mexico on business. Nuance International is a worldwide display design, build and project management firm based in Lawrenceville, Ga. Hannah has been doing business in Mexico for almost 20 years.
“I am more concerned about safety in Mexico today than I used to be,” Hannah said. “Over the last few years there has been an increase in violence in Mexico City, particularly kidnappings for ransom.”
According to the U.S. State Department Web site, dozens of U.S. citizens visiting or living in Mexico have been kidnapped in recent years and most of their cases remain unsolved. The Web site also states that, while most crime victims are Mexican citizens and drug war-related, “the uncertain security situation poses serious risks for U.S. citizens as well.”
“There is violence, but it is related to the fight for control between the drug cartels and the police,” Farias added. “Most of the dead in the attacks reported in the U.S. are either police or drug lords. Very few, if any, are civilians.”
Hannah said international travelers should be vigilant to guard against “fake” (unofficial) taxi services, smash and grab incidents, or corrupt customs and police officers looking to make a few extra bucks.
“I never walk out to the curb at the airport to hail a taxi,” he said. “I always go to the official airport taxi stand where I am then escorted to a legitimate taxi. Conversely, I never take taxis that are sitting and waiting outside of an establishment because I have heard that some fake taxi drivers lie in wait for prosperous-looking international travelers. I always try to flag down cabs that are whizzing by, less likely they are looking to mug you…to kidnap you to extort money.”
Michael Boone, director of international business for Coastal International, said he has heard from friends living in Mexico, that Mexico City is safer today compared to last year. He added, however, that he still sees police pickup trucks driving around with soldiers in the bed of trucks carrying machine guns.
“Mexican police are actually military and seeing them with their machine guns is a stark reminder that violence can breakout almost anywhere at anytime,” Boone said. “I don’t worry too much because I am always aware of my surroundings. I never venture far from my hotel at night just to avoid altercations or incidents.”
Headquartered in Sausalito, Calif., Coastal International is a nationwide provider of installation and dismantling services that also services clients in Mexico.
Hannah and Boone agree that U.S. citizens traveling throughout Mexico should exercise common-sense precautions such as visiting only legitimate business and tourist areas during daylight hours, knowing your destination and traveling in a group.
Like Farias, Stephen Ianuzzi, owner of MFV Expositions, LLC, is not concerned about safety while in Mexico, but he agrees out-of-towners must be careful. Based in Paramus, N.J., MFV Expositions has a wholly owned subsidiary in Mexico City that organizes numerous shows throughout Mexico.
“I am never concerned about personal security in Mexico City or the other cities that I travel to inside Mexico for business or pleasure,” said Ianuzzi, who spends a lot of time in Mexico. “Born and raised in New York City, I have learned: 1) That you never travel anywhere that is unfamiliar; 2) Know the language and culture of the local towns that you are visiting; 3) If possible, rely on the advice of one of your local employees before making travel plans or choosing transportation.”
For more information on traveling to Mexico and how to protect yourself, visit the United States Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs Web site at www.travel.state.gov.