SUN, sea and severed heads: Mexico is not a holiday destination for the faint-hearted. Foreign news coverage of the government’s crackdown on organised crime, which has seen some 30,000 people die in the past four years (most of them drug traffickers), has given the impression that the country is “burning from the Rio Grande to the border with Guatemala,” Mexico’s ambassador to the United States complained this month. For an economy that relies on tourism for nearly a tenth of its income, the gruesome headlines are painful.
Yet Mexico’s tourism sector is doing rather well. After an appalling 2009, in which the outbreak of swine flu emptied hotels overnight, the number of visitors this year will be close to 2008’s record total of 22.6m. Even excluding 50m annual day-trippers, Mexico remains the world’s tenth most-visited country. The numbers in August were the highest-ever for that month, despite a bomb attack on a United States consulate a few months earlier.