A presenter at the Mexico Resort Development Conference in San Diego asked anyone in the room to stand up if they knew of any good news regarding the tourism/housing market in Mexico. More people stood to tell their stories than time allowed.
The presenter ended with: "See, there is good news out there — but what is anyone doing to promote it?"
As I explored in another column (see "Snag a deal on Mexican real estate"), not all of Mexico is awash in blood and drugs. Much of the violence occurs in border towns, downtown Mexico City, and in the community of Culiacan, two hours north of Mazatlan.
In recent months, drug-related violence has also surfaced in Acapulco. However, much of the country remains a laid-back, comfortable place to live and visit, with inexpensive housing and a low cost of living. The flow of North American traffic to Mexico increased, in fact, in the last quarter of 2010.
"When someone gets killed in New York City, people in Europe don’t boycott the United States," said Marino Tomacelli, a San Diego resident who owns property on the Riviera Maya.
"There’s a general perception that only negative things are happening in Mexico. That’s coupled with an American ignorance of the geography. If there is a mugging at night in Tijuana, they think there is going to be a problem in Cancun and Cabo.
"Nothing could be further from the truth. I continue to feel safer in Mexico than I do in the States. In fact, I think some people are promoting the violence in Mexico to keep tourist dollars in the States."
Jeffrey Hill, a former Seattle resident, has four vacation rental homes in Puerto Vallarta and one in Florida. He spends most of his time south of the border and part of his year in Fort Lauderdale. He bristles at the mention of crime in Vallarta.
"Would I ever go out walking at 5 a.m. alone in Lauderdale or Miami? Hell no," Hill said. "Just the thought of that scares the hell out of me. There are many neighborhoods in Seattle where I would never go out walking alone in the dark. I feel far safer in Vallarta than anywhere in the States."
The major tourism markets in Mexico are still appealing destinations to a variety of visitors, particularly with the heavy travel discounting that has occurred over the past year or two. As a result, new second-home projects are being planned in some of the country’s major tourist markets. Many second-home owners and tourists, however, prefer to be removed from major cities.
"There have been no incidences of drug violence in our little beach community of 15,000," said Glen Triplett of his 5,000-square-foot villa at Rincon de Guayabitos, 45 miles north of Puerto Vallarta. "The local people are very friendly and it is a great place to live. We have spent the summer in Oregon and Washington and have frequently been asked about the ‘drug violence’ much more so than in the past."
Hill has been going to Puerto Vallarta for more than 30 years and has owned property there for more than 11. He estimates 10 percent of his rental clients ask about the drug violence.
"So what do I tell them? If you are a major drug dealer transporting drugs and money back and forth between the U.S. border states and the Mexico border states, then you should be very concerned about your safely in Mexico, or in the U.S. If you are a tourist coming to Puerto Vallarta to soak up the sun and put your feet in the sand, then it’s a waste of your time to even think about the drug wars impacting you in any way. There is absolutely no connection between drug issues and tourism in resort locations like Puerto Vallarta."
Bill Mencarow spends part of his year in the San Antonio, Texas, area and owns two luxury vacation rental condos in Cozumel (www.CozumelParadise.com). He and his wife have been in vacation rentals since 2004 and regard it as a business, not just a way to try to pay the expenses of owning personal getaways. They aggressively market these units and others that they own on rental sites like HomeAway.com.
"We hear ‘I’d never go to Mexico,’ but more from people we know or meet, not from rental inquirers," Mencarow said. "Those who contact us have already decided to go to Mexico, specifically Cozumel, and they almost never ask about violence. At most, we occasionally are asked if the neighborhood is safe.
"If someone does ask about violence, I tell them that being afraid to go to Cozumel because you’ve heard about violence in Mexico is like being afraid to go to Hawaii because you’ve heard about violence in Detroit."