In the eyes of most Canadians, Mexico’s reputation as a safe vacation destination has diminished over the past couple of months, results from a new poll show. High profile murders, violent assaults, and the arrests of several Canadians, along with an ongoing war between Mexican forces and Mexican drug cartels, are the main culprits in the apparent change of heart.
A majority of middle-aged (78 per cent) and older Canadians over 55 (76 per cent) said Mexico has a “serious problem” compared to 66 per cent of Canadians aged 18 to 34.
Slightly more younger Canadians also believed the incidents to be “isolated” (34 per cent) compared to older (24 per cent) and middle-aged adults (22 per cent).
In my home province of British Columbia, 72% of respondents to the Ipsos Reid poll conducted between Jan. 30, 2011 and Feb. 1, 2012 with an online survey of 1,002 adults, said they were reluctant to book a vacation to Mexico because of safety and security concerns.
The numbers were highest in Ontario, with 80% of respondents sharing concern; and lowest in Alberta with 67% of respondents feeling reluctant about booking trips to Mexico.
British Columbia has had direct ties to the last three Canadians who have been murdered in Mexico.
On Dec. 27, 2011, the bodies of 39-year-old Ximena Osegueda, a UBC student in Vancouver, and her Mexican boyfriend Alejandro Alvarado were found buried on a beach in the town of Huatulco – about 500 kilometers south of Acapulco. Osegueda and Alvarado d had been missing since Dec. 14. Their hands were bound and their throats were slit.
On Jan. 3, Robin Wood, a 67-year-old longtime resident of Salt Spring Island, was shot and killed after two robbers confronted him and a friend in a house near Melaque, a fishing village 200 kilometres south of Puerto Vallarta. Wood had been living in Puerto Vallarta for the last four years.
On Jan. 5, Salih Abdulaziz Sahbaz of British Columbia died in a shooting in the city of Culiacan, the capital city of the northwestern state of Sinaloa. Sahbaz had apparent ties to the United Nations gang, and is suspected of working directly with Mexican drug cartels in drug smuggling operations, though officials have yet to confirm the circumstances surrounding his death.
Other recent high profile crimes involving Canadians include Canadian pilot Cyndy Vanier, who was arrested in November under suspicion of being the ringleader of a plot to smuggle Mommar Ghafadi’s son and his family from Libya into Mexico. Vanier has contacted the Canadian government with claims that she has been tortured and abused while in Mexican custody. Vanier has been charged with falsifying documents, organized crime and attempted human smuggling.
The most recent serious assault on a Canadian took place in Mazatlan. Calgarian Sheila Nabb, 37, had every bone in her face broken when she was beaten unconscious in an elevator at the Hotel Riu Emerald Bay in Mazatlan on Jan. 20 while she was vacationing with her husband. A suspect was arrested and confessed to the beating, but claims Mexican police forced him into signing a confession that raises the crime from an assault to attempted murder.
The poll results have to be disheartening for the Mexican travel industry. The number of annual visits by Canadians to Mexico doubled between 2006 and 2010 – peaking at an estimated 1.6 million in 2010. The growth has been an encouraging sign for a country that’s watched its international reputation worsen, as its drug war death toll approaches the 50,000 mark in the same time frame.
Despite all of these unfortunate events involving Canadians, they do remain isolated incidents. According to the Foreign Affairs Department, 112 Canadians have been killed in Mexico in accidents, murders, drownings or suicides between 2006 and 2010. Of those, 15 Canadians were murdered or died in suspicious circumstances.
In a survey of top sun vacation destinations, Hawaii topped the list, with 95 per cent of Canadians surveyed saying they believe it is the safest out of six destinations. Florida ranked second at 92 per cent, followed by Cuba (78 per cent), Dominican Republic (72 per cent), Jamaica (64 per cent) and Mexico (29 per cent).
For the record, the five year average of deaths or assaults per visits from 2005-2009 in Mexico is 2.1 to 100,000. Cuba’s average was 1.5 to 100,000; the Dominican Republic’s was 1.6 t0 100,000; Jamaica had the most deaths or violent assaults of the questioned countries at 3.6 per 100,000 visits.
Despite Jamaica being statistically more dangerous than Mexico, most Canadians – for some reason – believe Jamaica to be a safer place to travel. One would assume that the recent string of Canadian incidents in Mexico are the reason in question.
It goes to show you what bad press can do to a country that in recent years saw a record number of Canadians flock south to the Mexican sands. If this poll is any indication, expect the number to shrink in 2012 as Mexico’s reputation among Canadians continues to get burned.
If you would like to get my view on travelling to Mexico, please click the link below to read my post titled “My Mexican experience: a different Canadian perspective.”