LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Drug cartel violence and a weakening global economy haven't stopped tourists from exploring Mexico's beaches, Mayan ruins and metropolitan cities, a government tourism official said Wednesday.
Martin Gonzalez, director of the Mexico Tourism Board's Houston office, said hotel operators had not seen a drop in business during the winter months. However, Arkansas' largest university is now warning students about traveling to Mexico and Gonzalez acknowledged the true test would be whether travelers come during the traditionally busy summer season.
About 80 percent of the tourists who come to Mexico are from the United States and Canada, he said.
"As long as you stay off drugs and alcohol abuse, I think you will be fine," Gonzalez told an Arkansas Committee on Foreign Relations luncheon. "The U.S. government has a responsibility to tell its own people to take precautions."
But violent clashes between cartel gunmen and police continue in border towns after Mexican President Felipe Calderon announced a crackdown on the drug trade. Gunmen used machine guns, grenades and other paramilitary weapons in the fight and headless corpses have been founded in the big spring-break resorts of Acapulco and Cancun, well away from the border. More than 6,000 people were killed in drug violence in Mexico last year.
The State Department issued a travel alert in February, urging U.S. tourists and travelers to be cautious but not necessarily to cancel their plans. Several universities across the nation have referred students to the alert.
Wednesday, students at the University of Arkansas — the state's flagship school — received their own notice to check the State Department's travel alert. University spokesman Steve Voorhies said officials sent the notice out of an abundance of caution, even though students likely already have their travel plans together for the school's spring break beginning March 16.
Mexican consul Andres Chao said the Little Rock consulate had not received any questions from worried travelers. However, he acknowledged his country's role in the illegal drug trade — and said the continuing demand for the drugs in the U.S. keeps the cartels in business.
"We are a transit country for all of the drugs coming from central and Latin America ... into the United States," he said.
Gonzalez said the tourism board, an agency of the Mexican government, continues to advertise Mexico's natural beauty and resort cities.
"The effort has mainly been a P.R. effort," he said. "We have been trying to explain the situation and try to portray not only the bad things but the good things that are happening there."
On the Net:
U.S. State Department Mexico travel alert: http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/pa/pa_3028.html
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.
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