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What ‘V’ Word Means For Mexico

 

At the risk of sounding like apologists for Mexico, a country we have visited many times and hopefully will visit many more, our observations on the latest reports of cruising-vs-violence in Puerto Vallarta are based on these facts:

• Attacks from Mexican drug cartels on the government in the state of Jalisco on May 1 included fires set in Puerto Vallarta, with the worst of the violence was in Guadalajara.

• The Celebrity Infinity bypassed a scheduled stop in Puerto Vallarta on May 10.

• Royal Caribbean’s Jewel of the Seas did the same thing on May 12.

• Disney’s Wonder skipped the port, too.

• Tourism officials meeting with cruise executives in Florida said yesterday that the events of that Friday morning were isolated, quickly contained and resolved.

• Both parties in Florida agreed to “improve and increase communications to ensure the cruise lines are kept better informed and receive updates in real time.”

So…

It appears that Celebrity, Royal Caribbean and Disney were reacting on mis-information from who knows where…probably the Internet? And did it take a week for the cruise lines to find out they shouldn’t stop there nine days later?

It also appears that cruise lines, and passengers, are spooked the moment the “V” word and Mexico are mentioned in the same breath, or Internet page. Because there is a violent event in Gaudalajara it doesn’t mean Puerto Vallarta (pop. 200,000) is unsafe. If there was a violent event in Oakland, would a cruise ship abandon San Francisco — and they are much closer than Puerto Vallarta and Guadalajara (almost 200 miles)?

It also appears Mexican tourism officials are going to have to implement unimaginable means to try and keep the cruise business for Puerto Vallarta, by literally tracking the Puerto Vallarta-Stan Shebs

- Stan Shrebs photo

whereabouts of all passengers once they leave the ship. The city “will work with local tour operators, taxi drivers and other tourism service providers to employ new measures that inform the ships of their passengers’ location.”

For visitors to Mexico, this is the new level of fear.

Violent events can happen anywhere, of course…BaltimoreNewtown…Columbine High School and so on.

But when it’s Mexico, there’s an accelerated level of distrust. Based on our visits to many parts of Mexico, we think that’s wrong.

In the news…

• Automated passport machines at Vancouver cruise terminal
• Azamara Quest refurbishment bigger…and later (April 2016)

Today at portsandbows.com: More on Viking's first ocean cruise ship

Norwegian Sky
4 nights
July 13, 2015
Miami (return): Grand Bahama Island, Nassau
Inside: $499
Cost per day: $124
www.ncl.com

Mexico's Inside Waters Rocky, Too

Over a group lunch on Sunday, we eavesdropped on a conversation in which one person’s daughter was going to Mexico for spring break.

“Isn’t your daughter worried about going to Mexico?” someone asked.

This week, the Mexican Tourism Board is at the Cruise Shipping Miami 2012 trade show, trying and hoping to sell their towns and cities as port stops. Is there a tougher job in tourism right now?

The mere mention of “Mexico” draws skepticism, most often from people who have never been there. We have been many times, going back 40 years, and it’s always been memorable. A trip to Loreto with “three amigos” in tow was for a long time our favourite family vacation, and still ranks in the top five.

Loreto?

It is, or was, a small town about halfway down the peninsula that is Baja California, on the shores of the Sea of Cortez, the inside waters of the Mexican Riviera. Our memories are of great “liquados” (milkshakes), terrifying car rides, gratifying deep-sea fishing (we don’t fish but did there and caught three large yellowtail tuna) and beautiful weather and beaches. And nice people, especially Rosario and Antonio. There are whales but the only ones we saw were by the pool, covered in suntan lotion.

In recent years, Loreto has been a cruise-ship port, on the route that also takes you to little-known (or obscure) ports such as Pichilingue, Guaymas and Topolobampo (and a train ride to the magnificent Copper Canyon as our cruise colleague Phil Reimer discovered just over a year ago). In 2011, Loreto saw an increase of 25% in cruise passengers, to 10,400, primarily from the Crystal Symphony and Holland America’s Zaandam, which has one stop scheduled next spring as it makes its way north to Alaska.

In 2012, nada. No ships. No passengers.

Disney’s Wonder sails by it. Azamara used to sail by but doesn’t any more. Oceania, like Crystal and Holland America, used to stop there, but doesn’t any more.

The tourism people from Mexico have a tough sell this week in Miami, and little Loreto — with no reported murders nor thefts — is the toughest of all.

DAILY DEAL:
Carnival Fascination
4 nights
May 3, 2012
Jacksonville (return): Freeport, Nassau
Inside $349
Cost per day: $87
www.carnival.com

Misery Magnified for Mazatlan

Mazatlan is being treated more and more like a leper colony for tourists. Yesterday’s news was that the latest cruise-ship company to take a pass on the Pacific Coast resort is Carnival. It all comes from the perception — real or magnified — that Mazatlan is not a safe place to be, for anyone.

Okay, first of all, you can’t blame the cruise lines (Carnival is following Norwegian and Disney, of the majors). Port stops are their business. If their customers (people like us) think there is reason to be afraid of walking the streets of Mazatlan, they’re not going to book cruises that stop there. It doesn’t matter whether it’s safe or not…what matters is they think it isn’t safe, and what’s going to change their minds?

If passengers don’t book tickets to Mazatlan, the ships have no choice.  They won’t go there.

There are two schools of thought, of course. One is that the recent crime wave, including the murder of a tourist, is reason enough to avoid Mazatlan. The other is that the reports are blown out of proportion.

We have friends who own a home in Mazatlan and live there half the year. On Christmas, they had some of their kids and grandchildren spend the holidays with them. Here’s a sample of what it meant:

“It was wonderful having our children experience our little piece of paradise, so that they could see why we are just fine, happy, and safe here.  They have had such negative feeling of us being in Mexico.”

The point is, all of Mazatlan isn’t a combat zone. Chances are if you go in the wrong part of town, at the wrong time of day, you will put yourself at risk. Chances are if you don’t, you won’t.

The relative abandonment of this place becomes a vicious circle. The negative impact on the economy creates more poverty, and more poverty creates more crime. it’s one step down the road to making Mazatlan a tourist ghetto and, having been there several times, we think it deserves a better fate.

And on the subject of safety, how do you explain what’s happening here when river cruise ships are days away from resuming voyages down the Nile River in Egypt? Is that really less dangerous than Mexico?

Super Bowl Ripples in Mexico

Yesterday was Super Bowl Sunday, but there are people in Mexico who felt like the Green Bay Packers by the time Vince Lombardi’s Trophy was being destined for Wisconsin. This we know because we have a friend in Mexico City, and her husband is a rabid Packers fan. So much so that, when last heard from he was en route to Dallas to see the game in person.

Pedro wasn’t the only person from Mexico feeling like a champion last night. In Mazatlan, apparently, there is reason for cheering, too.

If you’ve been reading this blog, then you know cruise lines have been bypassing or pulling out of the beleaguered Pacific Coast port, amid rising concerns over passenger safety. Then last week, after intimating it would be joining the exodus, Carnival went ahead and allowed the Spirit to make its regular Mazatlan stop. Then Norwegian did the same thing with its Star (above).

The incidences of crime were few, and petty, according to Mexican authorities. Yes, there was a Canadian tourist who was shot, but he was not a cruise ship passenger, so you don’t know much about the circumstances. While cruise lines were making noises and plans to pull out, Mazatlan tourism officials were scurrying to meet any cruise executives they could find to rebuild its image, and rehabilitating its reputation for safety.

It may not have been a 31-25 trophy-winning victory…but it probably feels like it.

Si?

Cruise-Ship Troubles Tough for Locals

There’s always trouble somewhere, isn’t there? There’s no escaping it. Egypt. Tunisia. Yemen. Afghanistan. There’s even trouble in the cruise industry.

In Mexico, cruise lines are bailing out of ports. The latest one is Mazatlan, now being bypassed regularly, because of an increase in crime. Holland America, Disney and Princess have all taken Mazatlan off their lists of ports, at least for the time being.

In Belize, there are tendering issues that have moved cruise ships to change ports. Several Carnival ships have changed itineraries and gone to Costa Maya or Grand Cayman instead.

The Mexico issue is pretty cut and dried. Tourists have been mugged, and the threat of that turns them off taking cruises making stops in Mazatlan. For the Mexican people who count on cruise tourism, it’s just one more blow.

The Belize issue is more complicated. Depending on whom you believe, one or some of the following is true: (1) the tendering company raised prices from $5 a head to $7 a head and Carnival said no; (2) local tender boats are considered to be unsafe for transporting cruise-ship passengers; (3) a tendering operator from Hawaii brought large boats in to either undercut the locals or to solve the problem; (4) the movement to limit the number of cruise ships dropping anchor off Belize is sabotaging the process.

At any rate, this week an estimated 10,000 passengers expected in Belize City went somewhere else. If Royal Caribbean and Norwegian take Carnival’s lead, it will be worse.

Who suffers?

Rose, a happy woman (left) we met a year and a half ago in Belize City, is a street vendor. She was kind, with a smile as wide as a freeway, and she put no pressure on customers to buy. She depends on tourism.

Mark is a tour guide. He told a Belize television station he had no customers — zero — this week and that the income with which he supports his family is dependent on people buying local tours if they don’t have shore excursions.

Roy, a taxi operator, told another TV station that the desperation is leading to in-fighting among the drivers because there are so many of them and so few customers, and he blames the government.

The storyline in Mexico will be similar, the ways things are going. The poor will become poorer.

And that’s the saddest thing of all.

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