In Travel

In America’s current political climate, even innocuous precautions like travel warnings have been perverted to feed into foreign fear mongering. While it’s easy to throw around travel advisories to countries our leaders feel slighted by or “better than,” they come at the expense of people’s livelihood in areas that rely on tourism. Before canceling your next international trip based on the State Department’s warnings, take this as an example of how blatantly biased they can be.

For 15 years, my wife and I have traveled to Zihuatanejo, a city in the Mexican State of Guerrero. This area is unique in how its balance of resorts and local businesses. Over the years, we have formed lasting relationships with the wonderful locals who have been nothing but welcoming. You’re really able to experience the culture outside your hotel room and the beach. Their authenticity and hospitality are why we go back year after year instead of venturing somewhere like Cancun.

On January 10th, the US State Department published a travel advisory about our southern neighbors with specific emphasis on five states, including Guerrero. These five states received a Level 4 ‘Do not travel’ status. The specific advisory for Guerrero can be seen below:

If you’re wondering what the State Department’s website for Travel to High-Risk Areas includes, it’s a lot of information about planning your funeral, drafting a will, and consulting a private security company to accompany you on your trip. This is not to make light of their suggestions, but rather the subjective and ludacris way they throw around the Level 4 advisory when there are legitimate areas to apply it to. For reference, other countries rated at Level 4 include Syria, Somalia, and Yemen. Additionally, other Central and South American countries with higher crime rates rarely reach the Level 4 rating.

Violence and gang activity is definitely an issue in Mexico, as it is in America. It doesn’t permeate every city block and individual the way our State Department would lead us to believe it does in Mexico. This is a clear case of creating a culture of fear of foreign countries among American citizens. Won’t build a wall or sing our country’s praises? No problem, we’ll “advise” our citizens of the dangers of your country and ruin your $20 billion tourism industry that accounts for 7% of your GDP. It’s not that Mexico is the height of safety, it’s the motives and subjectivity of these travel advisories that give me pause.

So what was the catalyst that brought these extreme travel bans to Ixtapa-Zihuatenejo specifically? Let’s dig a little deeper into the ‘U.S. government employees prohibited from travel’ portion of the advisory. Until recently, government employees were allowed to fly to the vacation destination of Ixtapa in Guerrero. This came to an end when a California state employee was killed in Ixtapa around 4am while vacationing in nearby Zihuatanejo.

The purpose of these details is not in any way to diminish this tragic loss of life. No one’s death should be used as political leverage, but that’s what seems to be happening here. In Ixtapa, as in Chicago and many other places, 4am is a risky time to be out in certain areas. There have been conflicting reports of drug use, hiring sex workers, and drunken belligerence at a local bar being the cause of the later death. Even if none of those risk factors are proven true, staying out until 4am is an easy thing to avoid to drastically decrease your chances of being the target of a violent crime. This wouldn’t be an uncommon news story in any American city and yet, it’s being held up as a reason to avoid travel to an entire state because the victim happened to be a U.S. state employee.

So now entire communities will suffer the loss of significant tourism that sustains their economies. If you can’t empathize with fellow humans from a different country, let’s look at a hypothetical situation in our own backyard: Chicago. The parallels are scary. Our beloved president publicly disapproves of Chicago’s mayor and its citizens’ lack of support for his political endeavors. During this same time, tourism has flourished in the city. In 2016, a record 54.1 million tourists (domestic and international) visited Chicago. The city also surpassed San Francisco and New York as the Best Big City in the US. The tourism sector of Chicago’s economy brings in over $14 billion yearly and employs over 100,000 area residents.

Imagine for a moment, and really, it shouldn’t be too terribly difficult, that after the next protest or ambiguously unsupportive comment from a local politician, the federal government issued a travel advisory about Chicago. On paper, it wouldn’t be out of line given the city’s crime statistics. The city does have a per capita homicide rate similar to Mexico’s. If you live in a “dangerous” place like Chicago though, you know that doesn’t tell the full story.

Crime is common in small specific areas, which is its own societal dilemma, but not indicative of the safety of a tourist. If you stay in safe areas and exercise common sense caution, you’re most likely to survive your trip to the Willis Tower. Our leaders are using things like travel bans to dissuade us from experiencing other cultures.

Can we make 2018 the year of common sense? Can we start taking a closer look and thinking about the ulterior motives guiding our government’s actions? Will it take some critical thought and a little extra time to research? Yes, but we owe it to ourselves to be better informed about our country and how we operate in the international political climate.

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