What Can Business Travelers Learn from Attacks on Tourists in Mexico?

What Can Business Travelers Learn from Attacks on Tourists in Mexico?

With approximately 40 million tourists visiting Mexico in 2018, the tourism industry is booming—but so is violent crime.[1] In fact, the U.S. State Department recently issued a Level 2 travel advisory for Mexico, recommending increased caution. Tourist destinations such as Acapulco, Cancun, and Playa del Carmen are especially attractive to criminals, showing that vacation hotspots are not always entirely safe. In addition to routine crime, the country’s fight against narcotics trafficking continues to exact a heavy toll, with the country’s murder rate in 2018 on track to reach an all-time record high.[2]

While organized crime generally avoids targeting tourists, regular criminals remain an ever-present threat in tourist destinations and major cities throughout the country. What can recent attacks on tourists in Mexico teach business travelers about security?

Map out your movements.

In order to reduce your risk of being targeted by criminals, it is essential to restrict your movements to safe areas with which you are familiar. Familiarizing yourself with a map of your intended destination and doing some online research will help you get your bearings and learn which areas to avoid. For extra safety, security expert Ben West recommends staying within tourist zones, as they generally maintain tight security.[3] If you are attending a business meeting or other work event, map out the route you will be taking to and from the venue, whether you are walking, driving, or taking a taxi or other service. In addition, you should let someone know where you are going and when you plan to be back.

Maintain hotel security.

Travelers often view their hotel room as a safe harbor, but even inside your hotel, it is possible to become the victim of a crime. Theft is the main problem faced by hotel guests, with a recent report by the Economist noting that most break-ins occur in the afternoon when guests are away.[4] In order to reduce the odds of being targeted, there are several simple security measures you can take. First, avoid staying on the ground floor, as windows present an easy access point. Keep any valuables locked in the hotel safe if one has been provided. Be sure all doors and windows are locked and bolted before you go to sleep and consider adding a portable door stop for an extra layer of security. Ideally, you should be able to use the stairs to escape in the event of a power outage or other emergency that renders elevators inoperable. Study the entrances and exits to the building, and create an emergency escape plan.

Be cautious when drinking alcohol.

Although enjoying a drink is a normal part of most vacations—and business trips, for that matter—it is essential to maintain situational awareness if you plan to drink alcohol. Dario Flota, Director General of the Quintana Roo Tourism Board, recently discouraged visitors to Cancun from drinking to excess in a report by the Washington Post.[5] Although cartels generally do not target tourists, other criminals might resort to drugging the drinks of unsuspecting bar patrons. For this reason, travelers should avoid letting beverages out of their sight and request a fresh drink if they have left one unattended.

Avoid conspicuous displays of wealth.

Petty crime is a common occurrence throughout Mexico due to police corruption and gang activity, so business travelers should educate themselves about the security situation before they enter the country. Expensive watches, diamond rings, and other jewelry are likely to attract the attention of thieves. They should be left at home or locked in a hotel safe to reduce the risk of armed robbery. Business travelers should pay attention to how others around them are dressed and avoid drawing attention to themselves, especially in unfamiliar surroundings.

Avoid traveling alone after dark.

Violent crime such as kidnapping, carjacking, and robbery is most often carried out under cover of darkness, so business travelers should exercise extreme caution when attending meetings and other functions after dark. The U.S. government advises travelers to use toll roads whenever possible and avoid driving alone or at night.[6] For increased safety, it is advisable to hire a local, prescreened security driver if you plan to venture out after nightfall.

Install a personal security app.

Before traveling overseas, many executives install dedicated security apps on their phone. In addition to providing real-time information on an executive’s location via the phone’s built-in GPS, in an emergency situation, a one-touch SOS button alerts a local dispatch center with the executive’s location. It also enables users to share their phone’s video feed and exchange text messages with the dispatch center’s security team. As a proactive measure, such apps deliver customized security and safety alerts based on an individual’s location. Additionally, geo-fencing capabilities exist to notify the user that they’ve exited a predefined geographic area as well as send an alert to the dispatch center regarding the executive’s travel patterns. Instead of or in addition to a smartphone app, some executives carry a personal GPS device and only travel in cars equipped with dedicated vehicle GPS solutions.


Research and common-sense precautions can reduce your risk of becoming the victim of a crime. Nonetheless, given Mexico’s deteriorating security situation, travelers should exercise every available security measure at their disposal to ensure a safe and productive business trip.

[1] https://www.travelpulse.com/news/destinations/mexico-tourism-numbers-reveal-strong-first-half-of-2018.html

[2] https://www.usnews.com/news/world/articles/2018-12-02/mexicos-new-president-takes-aim-at-violence-during-first-day-in-office

[3] https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/travel/despite-recent-violence-in-cancun-officials-say-tourist-zone-is-safe-for-vacationers/2018/08/27/e72d0036-a7b4-11e8-97ce-cc9042272f07_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.00f9ef2f8529

[4] https://www.economist.com/gulliver/2014/09/18/stay-safe

[5] https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/travel/despite-recent-violence-in-cancun-officials-say-tourist-zone-is-safe-for-vacationers/2018/08/27/e72d0036-a7b4-11e8-97ce-cc9042272f07_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.00f9ef2f8529

[6] https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/traveladvisories/traveladvisories/mexico-travel-advisory.html