How much should crime risk factor into a Mexican winter getaway?

Steve Mertl
National Affairs Contributor
Daily Brew

The latest killing of a Canadian visitor to Mexico has again raised concerns about the safety of tourists in Canada's favourite winter getaway outside Florida.

Robin Wood, a retired mechanic from Salt Spring Island, B.C., was shot Tuesday while resisting robbers in a friend's home in the town of Melaque, near Puerto Vallarta.

So far, there are no reports of Canadians cancelling their Mexican holiday plans. A spokeswoman for Kelowna, B.C.'s airport said Wednesday all four of the day's flights to Mexican destinations were full, AM1150 radio reported.

"This is a proven market for us," says Jenelle Haynes. "People want to go to Mexico. This is a terrible and unfortunate situation, but there is a risk when people travel. People need to be aware of their surroundings."

CBC reported that police say robberies and associated murders are common in the area where Wood was killed, but that foreigners are rarely involved.

This is the latest in a string of reports about Canadians victimized while in Mexico, so it's possible travellers are well aware of the potential risks and have factored them in.

The Department of Foreign Affairs advises caution when travelling to Mexico "due to a deteriorating security situation in many parts of the country."

The advisory focuses mainly on Mexico's northern border region, where drug cartels are battling government troops. It recommends avoiding non-essential travel in the borderlands. But it warns Canadians to be wary anywhere in Mexico.

"High levels of criminal activity, as well as occasional demonstrations and protests, remain a concern throughout the country."

The CBC reports only a fraction of the more than 200,000 Canadians who leave the country for six months each year go to Mexico. The vast majority head for Florida and Arizona.

But Statistics Canada figures show Mexico was the No. 1 non-U.S. country visited by Canadian tourists in 2009, with more than 1.2 million visits with an average stay of about 10 days.

And those numbers went in the wake of high-profile incidents, such as the 2006 murders of two Canadians killed in their hotel room while attending their daughter's wedding in a resort near Playa del Carmen.

In 2010, five Canadians died in an explosion at another Playa del Carmen resort that was blamed on a gas leak.

And last year, a Canadian tourist was wounded while walking out of his hotel in Mazatlan, apparently an innocent bystander to a fatal gang shooting.

Days before Wood's death, a Canadian tourist reported being robbed of $22 and some personal belongings by two police officers near a hotel in Acapulco. The resort city's mayor said Thursday the two officers involved have been fired, according to the Toronto Star.

Countries that rely on foreign tourism are always vulnerable to bad publicity involving crime.

Grenada's tourism minister said this week his country remains "an extremely safe destination," despite the death of a Grenadian-born Canadian in police custody. Five officers have been charged with manslaughter for allegedly beating Oscar Bartholomew for hugging a policewoman he mistook for an old friend.

"This is a tragedy on all counts … [but] Grenada still is — and will continue to be — an extremely safe destination for travellers from around the world," Tourism Minister Peter David said in a statement reported by the National Post.