Stories about drug-related violence in Mexico are so commonplace that even ever-more-gruesome details seem to get little more than a glance from Americans. A look at tourism data suggests that it's also not keeping them from visiting.
CNN's splashy, front-page headline this afternoon read: "Mexico's Bloody Struggle." It's a horrible story: seven bullet-perforated bodies left sitting in plastic chairs in the town square, messages around their necks. Next to that story is another story about tens of thousands of Mexicans missing since the outbreak of drug violence in 2007. And next to that, a story about how even Acapulco — destination of thousands of American tourists a year — is not protected from violent crime.
Last March, CNN noted that even constant reports of crime weren't dissuading visitors. We took a look at crime and travel data from 2007 to 2011, and it appears that this is indeed the case.
Here's what Mexico's surge in violent deaths has looked like, using data compiled from the Mexican government. January 2011 is the last month for which data is available. Most occurred in the municipalities that line the border with the United States, the gateways for trafficking.
When we add in air travel data from the U.S. government, we can see that the overall effect is small. There was a large drop in late 2010, but that largely correlates to the end of summer, a pattern that is repeated each year.
If we look at the 12-month average, the picture becomes a little clearer. Air travel to Mexico has dropped slightly, but not a huge amount, even as crime has increased.
There's one data point that shines a little more light. William Robert Johnston compiled data on the number of U.S. citizens killed by violent crime in Mexico on an annual basis. There are fewer data points, but it shows much more of the relationship you might expect: more U.S. deaths corresponding to fewer U.S. visitors.
Of course, the odds of anyone in Mexico being killed — citizen of the country or American tourist — are very small. Given the role that the tourism industry plays in the country, it's for the best that Americans aren't discouraged from making the trip. There'd be no problem at all if we could only be dissuaded from so enthusiastically supporting that other key Mexican industry: drugs.