In 2010, Mexico lost more than 15,000 lives due to drug-related violence. In 2011, ironically, the country is experiencing a mini-boom in tourism. According to the Mexico Tourism Board, more than 3 million visitors arrived in Mexico in January and February, marking an 80 percent increase from the same time this year.
"The distance between Juarez and Cancun is 1,000 miles, the distance between Juarez and Los Cabos is 1,600 miles,” said Rodolfo Negrete-Lopez, the chief operating officer of the Mexico Tourism Board, who spoke with FoxNews.com during the recent 2011 Global Travel and Tourism Summit in Las Vegas.
“These episodes of violence have occurred and will continue to occur in these specific pockets of the country.”
Mexican president Felipe Calderon plans to make 2011 “The Year of Tourism” for the country. He signed a decree in January to increase investment into tourism by 127 percent, with projects ranging from building and maintaining infrastructure to promoting the country’s culture abroad.
"We're a country with tremendous cultural wealth," said Lopez-Negrete. "We have very important assets such as our history, our art, our music, our folklore, our cuisine, and more importantly, a trademark of Mexicans, hospitality.”
But the “specific pockets” he references can be extremely dangerous for tourists. Take, for instance, Ciudad Juarez, considered by many to be the capitol of Mexico’s drug war. In February, a reported 18 people died in one day due to drug-related violence.
“We can’t guarantee your safety if you go over there,” said Tela Mange, a spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Public and Safety. “If the bullets start flying, there’s no guarantee that they’re going to say ‘Hey, they’re tourists, we’re going to let them pass.’”
And just a month ago, the U.S. Department of State issued a travel warning that said while resort areas and destinations generally don’t see levels of drug-related violence, it’s important to understand the risks involved when traveling to Mexico and to avoid dangerous areas.
“There have been numerous reports of shootings going on in [the resort areas of] Acapulco and Cancun,” said Mange. “We just want people to be aware that it has become dangerous to visit these areas.”
Even travel companies understand the impact of the drug war when it comes to the perception of Mexico to outsiders.
“Clearly, the public relations issue regarding violence is a major issue," said Shannon Stowell, who serves as the president of the Adventure, Travel, and Trade Association, based in Seattle. "The [drug-related violence stories] that do come out are difficult and gruesome enough that they do become major stories.”
While the numbers may show an increase in tourism, Lopez-Negrete understands changing the perception of Mexico will be an ongoing battle.
"We recognize that this is a challenge," said Lopez-Negrete. “But you have to bear in mind one thing: Mexico is a very large country.