Spring Break Travelers Warned to Avoid Mexico

After a recent string of drug-related violence, students have been warned to be cautious in their travel plans to Mexico this spring break season

In late February, the State Department issued a travel alert advising avoidance of certain parts of the country. The advisory was elevated to a warning on Sunday, March 14th-one day after three people with ties to the U.S. Consulate were gunned down by suspected drug gangsters.

Since the warning was issued, universities and local governments have been cautioning students to avoid the most violent regions, which include most border towns. According to the State Department, cities that should be avoided include Ciudad Juarez, Tijuana, Chihuahua City, Nogales, Matamoros, Reynosa and Monterrey, according to the State Department.

"A number of areas along the border continue to experience a rapid growth in crime," reads the warning from the State Department. The statement goes on to cite an increase in robberies and homicides across all of Mexico, and public shootouts during daylight hours in Ciudad Juarez, Tijuana and Nogales. Additionally, travelers on highways have been targeted for robbery and violence-situations "more likely to occur at night but may occur at any time."

Earlier this month, the Texas Department of Public Safety warned college students to avoid crossing the border into Mexico during spring break. "Parents should not allow their children to visit these Mexican cities because their safety cannot be guaranteed," said Director Steven C. McCraw, according a report by the Wall Street Journal released today.

The Journal goes on to cite several universities that have alerted or plan to alert students about the State Department's warning, including Northwestern University; Arizona University in Flagstaff; University of California, Los Angeles; University of Wisconsin-Madison; and University of California, Riverside.

Well-known spring break party zones and resorts are easing travelers concerns by increasing security. After at least 17 drug-related killings occurred last weekend in Acapulco, MTV is heightening security for the television network's Spring Break 2010 event, according to the Journal. Additionally, police are flooding the tourist strip in the area and stationing themselves along the beach, according to a report run yesterday by MSNBC.

Acapulco has seen smaller-than-normal crowds this year, with tour operators predicting the number of college students to drop 30 percent this year to 17,500, according to a report released today by Business Week. "The economic crisis is still hurting us a little bit, and we've been affected by so much news about violence in Mexico," said Piquis Rochin, director of international promotions for Acapulco's tourism marketing agency.

According to Business Week, tourism is the third largest source of dollar inflows for Mexico, after oil and remittances. International tourism began to fall for the first time in a decade last year, losing around $2 billion amid the swine flu scare and a weakened economy.

Christina Ferraro, event organizer for travel service StudentCity, told Business Week the U.S. unemployment rate of 9.7 percent could be more of a factor for the drop in visitors than drug violence. "The war is not with tourists or Americans," said Ferraro.

The State Department is encouraging those who travel to Mexico to stay close to tourist areas, leave a travel itinerary with a friend or family member back home, avoid traveling alone, ensure their cellular phone will work on an international network prior to departure, and avoid carrying large amounts of cash or expensive-looking jewelry.

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