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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Explosion at Mexican Resort isn't scaring away Canadian Tourists

TORONTO - High-profile Canadian deaths in Mexico have been capturing headlines for years but even the latest tragedy — five dead in a hotel explosion — will do little to deter travel to the country, observers said Monday.

Travel from Canada to Mexico has risen steadily in recent years, despite violent incidents involving Canadians and an escalating drug war that has claimed tens of thousands of Mexican lives.

Since Domenic and Nancy Ianiero of Woodbridge, Ont., were found with their throats slit in February 2006 at a resort near Playa del Carmen, some 18 Canadians have died in the country, according to a Mexican embassy official.

Some have been fatally shot, including Kenneth Klowak, who was killed by armed men after he refused to stop at a roadblock in June.



Others have fallen from hotel balconies to their deaths.

In one case, Mexican police said 19-year-old Adam DePrisco was killed after stumbling in front of a car while drunk. His family and friends claimed he was beaten to death.

Despite years of news reports of Canadians meeting a tragic end in the country, tourism seems unlikely to suffer.

Gary Ralph, spokesman for the Association of Canadian Travel Agencies and Canada Embassy itself, said Sunday's horrific explosion at the Grand Princess Riviera Hotel in Playa del Carmen may keep Canadians away from that hotel, but not from other resorts or regions in Mexico.

Most travellers view the explosion as an isolated occurrence that "could happen anywhere," Ralph said.

"I wouldn't expect any impact on travel on that region or Mexico."

Allison Wallace, a spokeswoman for Flight Centre Canada, said the "only concerns we have heard of so far are people booked to stay at the Grand Princess Riviera Hotel within the next couple of weeks."

More than 925,000 Canadians visited Mexico in the first half of 2010, up from roughly 783,000 during the same period in 2009, according to the Mexico Tourism Board. About half were headed to the Cancun area.

Alberto Lozano, a spokesman for Mexico's embassy in Ottawa, says Canadians should look at the big picture, rather than individual reports.

"Since 2006, we have had 15 Canadians dead in Mexico, for different reasons — some of them drowned, others fell down from a balcony, some others killed themselves driving those sand cars, and some others, yes, were killed," said Lozano.

"With the five we had yesterday, we have 20, and all of them are very important people for the Mexican government and for us. But that number is out of more than five million Canadians travelling to Mexico since 2006."

Lozano said Mexican authorities are working to "improve some things" to ensure tourists' safety.

"We hope to keep receiving them."

Canadian officials have stopped short of urging Canadians not to visit Mexico, which is already under a travel warning due to growing instability and violence, particularly near the U.S. Border.

More than 28,000 people have been killed in the country's drug wars since 2006, including many bystanders.

Despite the increase in travel numbers, some Canadians say the explosion has made them wary of visiting the country.

Ed Prutschi, 36, a Toronto criminal lawyer and travel writer, says he's not quite ready to cancel a family cruise to Mexico planned for January, but he'll likely play it safer than usual during the trip.

"As a frequent traveller, it takes a lot before I get too concerned about isolated instances of violence abroad," Prutschi said in an email.

But he added: "I can’t help but feel a nagging sense of worry over my choice of holiday destinations."

"I never had any intention of hitting late-night clubs or strolling down back-alley city streets but I am giving real consideration to changing our usual travel behaviour," he said.
That could mean trading off-the-beaten-path adventures for guided excursions or even staying on the ship, he said.

Dan Croutch, 27, of Waterloo, Ont., says he's putting off any trips to the area until experts confirm the cause of the blast, which local authorities are blaming on a buildup of natural gas from a nearby swamp.

"Initially, it's very hard to believe, particularly with all the violence that's been happening in Mexico," said Croutch, who honeymooned near Playa del Carmen three years ago.
"It seems pretty far-fetched to me."

He said Mexico will likely remain a popular destination, "but if this sort of thing keeps happening ... I would reconsider, that's for sure."
Last year, two men from Vancouver were shot in a nightclub in the resort city of Cabo San Lucas.

In 2008, Bouabal Bounthavorn, 29, was shot three times in the head inside his hotel room in Cabo San Lucas.

Source: Winnipeg Free Press

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