REPORTING FROM MEXICO CITY — Mexico attracted a record number of foreign visitors last year despite a frightening drug war that is prompting travel warnings for a number of areas around the country.
Mexico’s tourism agency released new figures (link in Spanish) showing that the number of foreign travelers arriving by air in 2011 rose to 22.7 million, the most since the Bank of Mexico began keeping track in 1980. There was growth in each of the last five months of the year, officials said.
Tourism also got a boost from Mexican travelers, who registered 167 million visits to tourist spots. The total of Mexican and foreign tourists was 2% higher than for 2008, which had been the best year on record.
The number of air travelers from the United States to Mexico fell by 3% last year, but tourists from other countries — especially Brazil, Russia, Peru and China — registered sizable increases over 2010.
The enduring carnage of the drug war, with about 50,000 dead in the last five years, has generated substantial media coverage abroad.
Travel operators and Mexican resorts have sought to fill rooms by offering discounts in places such as Acapulco, now among the deadliest spots in the country, though most of the violence occurs far from the main tourist strip. Mexico remains a relatively affordable destination and, generally speaking, the tourist centers of well-known resort areas such as Cancun and Los Cabos have not suffered drug-related slayings.
The State Department’s latest travel warning for Mexico says Americans should avoid travel in parts or all of 14 states around the country, and several others where travelers should exercise caution.
Last week’s warning is more detailed than prior announcements about potential trouble spots and the perils there. Few major tourist areas are mentioned, though travelers are urged to exercise caution in Acapulco, Ixtapa and Zihuatenejo — all in the violence-plagued state of Guerrero — and in Mazatlan, a popular beach spot in the northwestern state of Sinaloa where killings have soared since 2009.
Tourism is one of Mexico's top sources of foreign income.
-- Ken Ellingwood
Photo: Soldiers at the scene of shootout with gunmen in Acapulco last April. The State Department urges visitors to Acapulco and some other tourist spots to exercise caution. Credit: Bernandino Hernandez / Associated Press