Global Politics

Violence impacts Mexico tourism

Violence in Mexico is not just taking a toll along the border. It's impacting tourism to the country's interior.The World's Jason Margolis has more from San Miguel de Allende, a popular tourist destination in central Mexico.

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More than 30,000 people have been killed in drug-related violence in Mexico since 2006. Most of the violence has taken place near the U.S.-Mexico border, as drug cartels struggle over access to smuggling routes into the U.S.

The violence isn't just taking a toll along the Mexican border though. It's impacting tourism to some Mexican towns far away. San Miguel de Allende is more than 10-hour drive south of the border.

San Miguel is a quintessential colonial tourist town, complete with requisite mariachi bands wandering the main square. It's hard to take a bad picture here. At every turn on the hilly, cobblestone streets, there are brightly colored buildings, stands selling artwork, and intricate metal engravings. A magnificent cathedral and park sit at the center of town. San Miguel was named a Unesco World Heritage site in 2008.

San Miguel has long been a magnet for American travelers and expats: retirees, artists, and business owners like Chuck Easter and Susan Cordelli. The couple owns the Casa Schuck bed and breakfast, a charming place with stunning colonial architecture. Their business caters largely to Americans. I stayed there. But the week I visited, it was pretty much empty.

�We are only guessing and wishing and waiting for the weekends,� said Easter.

�A week-long business became a weekend business,� added his wife, Cordelli.

The owners don't blame Mexico's escalating violence for the slowdown in their business, they blame the American media.

�Yes, there's violence at the border. Our families would be calling us left and right. Is everything OK? We're like what are you talking about?� said Easter.

Codelli added, �When we would listen to European news, British news, news from other countries, nada (nothing). America picked it up and took it for a ride, completely.�

I asked the couple, and many others I met in San Miguel, if it's the fault of the media, or the fault of the American news consumer for not drawing a distinction between news reports about violence along Mexico's border and the rest of the country.

Cordelli said potential visitors are indeed over-reacting, but she said you can't blame them.

�People are being shown horrific acts happening in different areas of this country and they're making decisions to say, �Oh, well, even if I want to go to Cancun, which has nothing to do with the border of Mexico, my kids might get kidnapped.' And of course, wouldn't that be enough for a family to reconsider coming to Mexico rather than going to another country? Of course,� said Cordelli.

Not everyone blames the media though for the slow-down in business. Business is also slow at the Tia Lucas steak house. Owner Maximino Altamirano Contreras said business is down because people are afraid to visit. But he points the finger for the slowdown at the Mexican government.

�The majority of the places are in peace, safety, so the government should make a promotion, promoting, you know, making something against that bad publicity,� said Contreas.

The Mexican government is trying to do that. The Mexico board of tourism is running highly-produced videos to show Mexico at its finest. They feature really attractive people laughing, playing in the water, and going to concerts, and laughing some more.

The videos do make you want to visit Mexico.

Alfonso Sumano, regional director for North America of the Mexico Tourism Board, said they're very clear about where it's safe to visit.

�Mexico is a huge country and most of our people are very hard working people, peaceful people, and welcoming visitors all the time,� said Sumano. �So our job here is just to try and balance and put into context the real situation going on in Mexico, and the reality of where to go if you want to enjoy the country.�

Back in San Miguel, a few people hope that message doesn't get through. Janice and Tom Albright from Houston were house shopping in San Miguel. The price of houses they were looking at have fallen dramatically in the past year. There are great deals to be had.

The economic downturn in the U.S. has no doubt hurt the real estate market here. But the Albrights think the perception of Mexico as a violent place is the main factor.

�Our friends think we're going to get killed or kidnapped, or both, everytime we come down,� said Tom Albright.

He joked that this is working to their advantage as buyers.

�That's why I want you to present the most horrific story imaginable,� he said. �The streets are awful, the guys are always drunk in the streets always wanting to get money from you.�

His wife wanted to set the record straight: They're moving to San Miguel in part because it is a safe place.

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