Tourism and Public Safety in Mexico: Current Challenges in Jalisco, Mexico

Mexico Safety

Mexico’s Economic Tourism Engine

In 2016, travel & tourism provided 292 million jobs in worldwide, equivalent to 1 in 10 jobs. The industry generated US$7.6 trillion in worldwide revenue or 10.2% of worldwide GDP. In 2017 in Mexico, travel & tourism sustained 3,913,500 jobs (7.5% of total employment). Estimates expect this figure to rise by 3.2% in 2018 and by 2.3%  to 5,051,000 jobs (8.5% of total employment) in 2028.[1]The direct economic impact of  travel & tourism to Mexico’s GDP was MXN 3,506.1 bn (USD 185.4bn), 16.0% of GDP in 2017, It is forecast to increase by 3.0% in 2018, and 3.4% pa to MXN 5,041.9bn (USD 266.6bn), or 17.9% of GDP in 2028.[2]. According to the U.N. World Tourism Organization, in 2016, tourists crossing international boarders exceeded one billion for the first time. Estimates indicate cross-border international tourism visits will nearly double to 1.8 billion by 2030.[3] Needless to say, this component of Mexico’s economic engine is vital. It demands maintenance, investment and monitoring.

Yet, like any issue. there’s a flip side to the upside potential of tourism for Mexico; environmental degradation, waste and water pollution, and perceived safety are three considerations prospective visitors take into account in their decision making processes. All three of these factors are current challenges in the Mexican state of Jalisco, where Guadalajara and Lake Chapala are located. This article examines this subject.

Risky Business

It’s important to keep in mind that tourists travel to experience pleasure. Their unequivocal preference is to avoid risk, inconvenience, and potential threats to personal safety – and those factors that may diminish the enjoyment of their overall experience. In this sense, prospective tourists have a built-in risk avoidance mechanism.[4] Countries and regions therein are acutely vulnerable to tourist perceptions of risk. Remember, an investment in by an individual or group is discretionary. It is a human choice. Tourists can and do choose to substitute a less risky destination.

The perception of risk by tourists has been characterized as a “major component of the decision-making process for evaluating destinations.”[5] (2017 Osland et al). Tourist risks are the risks tourists typically contemplate in the preplanning stages before booking. Tourist risks are twofold; personal risk and destination risk. Personal risk is defined as prospective tourist perceptions of personal threats and experiences of the same during the planning stage of the proposed trip.[6] (Tsaur, Tzeng, & Wang, 1997). Destination risk is the second dimension, defined as exposure to the likelihood of being victimized by crime, terrorism, disease, natural disasters, environmental hazards, and the absence of accessible, essential healthcare services.[7] (Kozak, Crotts & Law, 2007).

Jalisco, Mexico:  Perceptions of Risk by Prospective Tourists

Of course, every international traveler is familiar with the U.S. State Department Traveler Country Warning pronouncements.[8] For Jalisco, the 28-12-2018 warning reads: Jalisco state – Level 3: Reconsider Travel Reconsider travel due to crime.

“Violent crime and gang activity are common in parts of Jalisco state. In metropolitan Guadalajara, turf battles between criminal groups are taking place in areas frequented by U.S. citizens. Shooting incidents between criminal groups have injured or killed innocent bystanders. U.S. government employees may not travel to: Within 20 km (12 miles) of the Jalisco/Michoacán border, south of Route 120 , Highway 80 south of Cocula Highway 544 from Mascota to San Sebastian del Oeste. There are no restrictions on travel for U.S government employees to: Guadalajara Metropolitan Area, Riviera Nayarit (including Puerto Vallarta), Chapala, and Ajijic.”

Crime in Jalisco

Nationally in Mexico, 65% of residents recently surveyed stated they view insecurity as the main problem in the country, while 79% view insecurity increasing in their states. One expert observes; “In terms of security, it is indisputable that the country is in “bankruptcy”: crimes and victims on the rise, a policy of failed security and the discrediting of authorities and public institutions.”[9]

In late November 2018, two explosive devices were thrown at the U.S. Embassy in Guadalajara. They exploded. There were no reported injuries. According to the Los Angeles Times; “This is an epoch of horror,” former Gov. Sandoval acknowledged. But, he declared, the criminals “cannot be stronger than us. They cannot intimidate us.” There were 247 homicides officially reported in Jalisco during the first two months of 2018, according to official statistics. That’s an increase of 25% compared to the same time period in 2017 — which was a year that set a new record high for murders in the state of Jalisco and nationwide.”[10] In December 2018, a headline from the New York Post shouts “American Tourists Risk Death to Vacation in Mexico.”[11] Human rights activists declare disappearances also have increase to new highs in Jalisco, with more than 300 people reported missing in 2018. In December 2018, six state police officers were murdered in one incident. A 2018 article in Forbes declares: “more Americans were reported killed by homicide in Mexico than the combined total of Americans killed by homicide in every other country abroad.” [12] Like I said, it’s about perception.

The phrase “tourists of Mexico” is inhabited by a distinctly different and strategically important demographic to Mexico’s tourism industry: Baby Boomers from North America relocating to Mexico for retirement. This cohort is looking to live (full or part-time) in Mexico. They are a group Mexico must be terribly effective in maintaining the attraction and addressing negative perceptions. Why?

Between 2016 and 2017, 2016-to 2017 Mexico was the unequivocal primary travel destination of choice for U.S. residents, rising 12% from 31 million to 35 million during those years alone.[13] Interestingly enough, it has been noted that more U.S. residents are moving to Mexico than Mexicans moving to the U.S. [14] U.S. Baby Boomers are retiring – in droves. Some estimates suggest up to 10,000 a day.[15] The number of U.S. citizens residing in Mexico ranges from 1.7 million to over 2 million.[16] During the next decade, this figure is likely to grow significantly with the influx of retiring Baby Boomers from North America. Again, perception is everything. So is adaptation. Mexico must develop and adopt new, additional protective measures designed specifically for the preservation of the safety of tourists and English speaking retirees.

Digital Connectivity

Digital connectivity is essential to the tourism experience for those who travel from developed countries to Mexico. “The feeling of being able to connect is meaningful because a connectivity limitation might result in a negative travel experience.”[17] Mexico has work to do. In the Lake Chapala area, internet speeds are currently 3-5mbps. However, fiber optic cable is currently being installed. In Guadalajara, internet access is spotty, at best. As it relates to tourism, it is not solely the tourist who prioritizes digital connectivity; it includes the family, friends and colleagues of those tourists. Thus, the ability to text, call, and use on-line video mechanisms to communicate with “those at home” is paramount to the ability and necessity of tourists in Mexico to routinely confirm their safety to these audiences during their visits to Mexico. Again, substantial investment by the Mexican government is required to upgrade the current infrastructure in Jalisco to realize this necessity.

Environmental and Public Health Hazards

The environmental and public health hazards that inhabit the state of Jalisco have received international attention. The Lake Chapala Basin, a location central for tourism, expats, and vacationers is now well known for the environmental degradation and public health hazards that reside there.

The Lake Chapala basin is the most glaring example of the absence of meaningful and urgent Federal government intervention. Flows into the lake transport toxic sediments from the upper basin into the depths of the lake. Untreated sewage, run-off and wastewater are routinely discharged into the lake.  Scientists have verified presence of heavy metals in humans, fish, foods and flora are apparent. Municipalities cannot afford the electricity required to operate sewage and wastewater treatment plants. The lake is infested by water hyacinths and other invasive species. The incidences of Chronic Kidney disease in communities that reside along the lake shore remain the 2nd worst in the world. In some locations around the lake (indigenous communities), the incidence of CKD is 3-5 times greater than any other place on the planet. Need I say more? The Mexican National Government must designate the Lake Chapala Basin as a NaturALMO site – whereby the Federal government has yet to initiate the essential comprehensive, multi-faceted strategy to intervene in this degraded environment – and rehabilitate and restore this national treasure.

Points to Ponder: Risk Management Considerations for the Mexican Tourism Industry in Jalisco, Mexico

“Enrique de la Madrid, Mexico’s former Secretary of Tourism, said during a press conference in May 2018 that “crime rates in some parts of the country have been increasing” and the Mexico Tourism Board plans to add additional emphasis on the safety narrative; “We’re working on a campaign for the U.S. to stress that violence hasn’t impacted tourists,” he stated.”[18] (The current Secretary of Tourism in the Lopez-Obrador administration is Miguel Torruco Marqués). As an example, in Acapulco, local government has established a Tourist Assistance and Protection Center — aka CAPTA. This is a service where foreign tourists can report experiences and obtain assistance if they are victims of a crime.”[19] According to OSAC, “Tourism Police are specifically assigned to police tourist areas and are commonly the only units that speak English. Their main purpose is to enhance the safety of tourist areas by deterring crime and responding to accidents. Tourist police are not able to take denuncias but can assist travelers in contacting the authorities who can.”[20]

The same is required in Guadalajara and Ajijic. Recently, one cell phone was provided by the local newspaper (Lake Chapala Reporter) to local law enforcement in Chapala so English speaking residents can call to report crime and request assistance.

Mexico’s Secretariat of Tourism Miguel Torruco Marqués should consider the following to further insure the safety of tourists, expats and the like in Mexico:

  • Establish a national hotline for tourists to call to report crime, threats to safety and request assistance. This mechanism should be staffed 24/7/365 and provide multiple incoming lines with English speaking/bi-lingual operators who can facilitate the assistance required – with local Mexican law enforcement agencies throughout the country.
  • Establish, train and staff additional CAPTA deployments in high density tourist meccas (in Jalisco – Zona Centro Historico and Ajijic are obvious priorities). These CAPTA deployments may be seasonal, commensurate with high tourist seasons.
  • National tourist assistance hotline phone numbers should be posted, numerous, and be highly prominent in locations frequented by tourists in Jalisco.
  • Mexico’s Secretariat of Tourism must leverage technology to more effectively manage prospective tourist perceptions – that are currently heavily influenced by the headlines of mainstream media focused on the most heinous acts that threaten public safety and public health.
  • Tourism promotion is typically directed outward from a country to attract prospective visitors. However, as evidenced by the degradation in the Lake Chapala basin, Mexico’s Secretariat of Tourism Miguel Torruco Marqués must advocate internally insuring the Federal government initiates the essential comprehensive, multi-faceted strategy to intervene in this degraded environment – and rehabilitate and restore this national treasure. He must also advocate for connectivity technology upgrades that tourists require – and impact their experiences and perceptions.


Tourism is a strategically imperative component of Mexico’s current economy – and its’ future. It is also fragile and subject to a myriad of influences. Mexico must direct additional investments in the care, preservation, enhancement and technological improvements of the tourist experience. All must be designed to protect and invigorate the ongoing growth in this component of Mexico’s economy. It is essential. Internet access is ubiquitous in our world. Tourist evaluations of Mexico as their destination are influenced by the perceptions of public safety, connectivity and environmental and public health hazards. The perception of Jalisco, Mexico is currently problematic. An immediate, concerted effort is required to address this reality. May Mexico’s new Secretariat of Tourism Miguel Torruco Marqués lead the charge. Jalisco’s new Governor Enrique Alfaro Ramírez  should also be intimately involved in this effort.

About The Author:

Bill Dahl is an investigative journalist who recently completed 4 weeks in the Guadalajara/Chapala region of central Mexico examining the public health and environmental hazards that inhabit the area. He has a Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree in Criminal Justice. He resides in the U.S.


[1] World Travel & Tourism Council 2017 –  Economic Impact Report, Copyright © World Travel & Tourism Council: Travel & Tourism Economic Impact 2017 – March 2017. All rights reserved.

[2] World Travel & Tourism Economic Impact 2018 – Mexico –  Economic Impact Report, Copyright © World Travel & Tourism Council: Travel & Tourism Economic Impact 2018 – March 2018. All rights reserved.

[3] UN World Tourism Organization.

[4] Williams, A. M. and Baláž, Vallad. Tourism, Risk and Uncertainty: Theoretical Reflections, Journal of Travel Research, 54(3): 271 (2015), p. 287

[5] Osland , Gregory Mackoy, Robert McCormick, Marleen Perceptions of personal risk in tourists’ destination choices: nature tours in Mexico, Volume/Issue: Volume 8: Issue 1First Online: 10 Oct 2017 Page Count: 38–50

[6] Tsaur, Sheng-Hshiung & Tzeng, Gwo-Hshiung & Kuo-Ching, Wang. (1997). Evaluating tourist risks from fuzzy logic. Annals of Tourism Research. 24. 7

[7] Kozak, Metin and Crotts, John C, and Law, Rob The impact of the Perception of Risk on International Travelers, International Journal of Tourism Research, 10 July 2007. Volume 9, Issue 4 July/August 2007 Pages 233-242 Copyright © 2007 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

[8] SEE:

[9] LeClercq, Juan Antonio Eje Central, Bankruptcy in Public Safety, October 4, 2018 NOTE: Juan Antonio Le Clercq is Professor of International Relations and Political Science, UDLAP. Director of the Center for Studies on Impunity and Justice, CESIJ. Co-author of the Global Impunity Index.  He is also  aPh.D., and a nonresident scholar at the Baker Institute Mexico Center and a professor at the University of the Americas Puebla (UDLAP) in Mexico.

[10] McDonnell, Patrick J. Crime Wave, Police Complicity Batter Mexico’s Jalisco State and Trigger Angry Protests, Los Angeles Times March 26, 2018

[11] Vincent, Isabel New York Post December 15, 2018 American Tourists Risk Death to Vacation in Mexico.

[12] Stoller, Gary Mexico: Where More Americans Are Murdered Than In All Other Foreign Countries Combined, FORBES February 21, 2018 NOTE: This article is based on 2016 statistics and notes: “More than 31 million Americans visited Mexico in 2016, the National Travel & Tourism Office says, and State Department data shows there were reports of 75 American homicide victims there. In comparison, 49 million Americans traveled to all other foreign countries, and 69 were reported killed by homicide.”

[13] National Travel & Tourism Office:

[14] 7 of the Top Places U.S. Expats Are Living in Latin America (and Why)

[15] Garcia, Gabriel That $30 trillion ‘great wealth transfer’ is a myth, Gabriel Garcia is managing director and head of relationship management at BNY Mellon’s Pershing Advisor Solutions , May 22, 2018.

[16] The Business Year – Over 6,000 Companies in Jalisco – An Interview with Aristóteles Sandoval Díaz – Who has governed the western State of Jalisco since 2013. Mexico 2018 | ECONOMY |


[18] Peltier, Dan SKIFT Mexico Tourism Marketing Blitz to Address Safety Concerns After Violence, May 22, 2018

[19] Ibid, Vincent, Isabel

[20] US Department of State – Office of Diplomatic Security, Mexico 2018 Crime & Safety Report: Guadalajara,




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