Tourism officials and operators from Mazatlan were in Calgary Tuesday night to try to entice visitors back to the resort city who might have been scared away by Mexico’s reputation as a violent country.
A crowd of local travel agents gathered to hear the pitch from Frank Cordova, the secretary of tourism for the state of Sinaloa, which includes Mazatlan.
“Our people are waiting for Canadians with open arms,” he said. “We miss you. We want you back.”
Cordova said the number of Canadian and U.S. tourists visiting Mazatlan dropped by 25 per cent over the past three years.
Several murders and violent attacks on visitors to Mexico — in Mazatlan and elsewhere — prompted Canadian and U.S. authorities to issue travel warnings for parts of the country.
Ottawa continues to advise against non-essential travel to several of Mexico’s northern states, including Sinaloa. But Mexican officials successfully lobbied for that warning to exclude Mazatlan, Cordova said.
“The media has really hit hard on the violence and we tend as human beings to paint with a wide brush, even though Mazatlan has never been a dangerous destination for our tourists,” he said.
In January 2012, Calgarian Sheila Nabb was on vacation with her husband at a five-star resort in Mazatlan when she was found bloodied and unconscious in the hotel elevator with all of the bones in her face shattered.
She required major facial reconstructive surgery. A 28-year-old Mexican man was arrested soon after and charged with attempted murder.
A Penticton, B.C., man was shot in the leg a year earlier while on vacation in Mazatlan by a group of masked men believed to be targeting a Mexican involved in the drug trade.
Despite such incidents, travel agent Ken Stewart said he has no problem recommending Mazatlan to his clients.
“It's like in Calgary, there are certain places that you don't go at certain times of night,” he said.
“It's the same wherever you travel, you have to travel smart, play smart.”
Officials have invested $50 million to add security cameras throughout the port city and establish a new tourism police force, all of whom speak English, Cordova said.
“We’ve done a lot to make Mazatlan even safer,” he said.
The 300-year-old city has also been given a major facelift, including a rebuilt boardwalk.
“We put a lot of money into our downtown, and it’s beautiful now,” he said.
“We needed to let the world know that we are the best tourism alternative in the Pacific.
Now all they need is for it to snow in Canada, Cordova said.