Friday, March 2, 2012

Spring Break nears, but U.S. students are not headed to Cancún (or much of Mexico)

They'll drink their Coronas on some other beach

So says the Mexican travel agency Caribe Maya, which reported cancellations of up to 40% last month. In a typical season the company handles travel arrangements for eight to 10,000 U.S. students headed southbound to the Caribbean Riviera Maya. But a Feb. 8 Mexico travel warning by the U.S. State Dept. -- the second it has issued in the last 12 months -- may have deterred many prospective visitors, say experts (

The Mexican government characterized the warning as a "ridiculous" exaggeration, and maintains that plenty of travelers still select this country as their first choice destination ( Some travel industry professionals may disagree with the second half of that claim.

"Yes, young Americans are still traveling, but more within their own country, or to Central and South America," said one travel company official. Top choices in the U.S. are Miami, Orlando and New Orleans, and outside of the country include Costa Rica, Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires. The same official noted that Cancún is "not the same place it was several years ago," due to security concerns. Significantly lower hotel occupancy rates are mute testimony to the problem.

Government officials in Quintana Roo state say that two organized crimes groups, Los Zetas and Los Pelones, are locked in a bitter turf war. Los Zetas is one of Mexico's three most powerful drug cartels, operates on a national level (with U.S.-based affiliates) and is known for particularly brutal methods in accomplishing its goals. Los Pelones began as a local murder-for-hire squad in Q.R., run by a former Mérida resident. But since his arrest in December (he's allegedly admitted to 30 contract killings in Cancún in 2011), underlings have been fighting to replace him and become the new jefe (boss) of the group. And the organization has expanded its operations to include narcotics trafficking and gun running.

In better times Cancún attracted perhaps 90,000 Spring Breakers in March and April, but now the number has fallen to about 30,000, tourism officials say.

In Cancún, drugs and death conveniently delivered to your doorstep:
American student nearly killed in brutal Cancún assault tells his story to NBC:
Why are Los Zetas spies hanging out near Cancún hotel zone?:
Drugs float ashore at Playa del Carmen:
Highwaymen clean out Cancún-bound ADO bus:
Brutalized bodies of two men found in Cancún:
Double AK-47 execution in Cancún:
Los Pelones hit man with Mérida connection admits to 30 executions in Cancún:
Mexico's Riviera Maya in the hands of drug cartels and extortionists:
American tourist, 15, sexually assaulted in five-star Cancún hotel:
Puerto Vallarta cruise passengers robbed:
Tourism suffers in Mexico in 2011:
65% of Mexico "off limits" to foreign travelers:

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