Safety Check Los Cabos
Encouraging stats and tourists’ anecdotes show Los Cabos is safe destination
By Ed Kociela | Photos by Mariah Baumgartle
Article from Los Cabos Magazine, Issue #29
Confusion blanketed the faces of nervous-looking pedestrians as a police ATV with flashing red and blue lights rolled through the marketplace in downtown San José del Cabo. They appeared even more puzzled when the officer atop the vehicle slowed down, flashed a smile, and waved to them. A few minutes later, the officer passed through the crowded street again.
He was a new cop on the beat, part of the Los Cabos Tourist Police division, a group of 76 officers assigned to helping visitors feel safe and comfortable as they vacation in Los Cabos. These officers are full-fledged members of the police department. But while patrol officers undergo four months of training at the police academy, tourist police must attend for six months. And they must be bilingual.
“Our job is not to put tourists in jail,” says Daniel Rodríguez, commander of the Los Cabos Tourist Police. “Our job is to help them. We see them and say, ‘Don’t be afraid. Los Cabos is not Chihuahua or Veracruz. The police care for tourists.’ We will help them if they have a problem, if they are bothered … If they are lost, they can follow us to wherever they need to go.”
The international media’s sweeping generalizations of random and rampant violence in certain parts of México the last few years have badly bruised the country’s public image. Los Cabos, which is far from the epicenters of border-town violence and mayhem, has been hurt by the stories and public perception. Because of increased violence in some Mexican states, the U.S. State Department issued a new travel advisory in February, warning its residents that they should avoid travel to the states of Chihuahua, Durango, San Luis Potosi, Sinaloa, parts of Sonora, Zacatecas, and others. It advises that travelers should “exercise caution,” particularly at night, in Tijuana, where 34 Americans were killed in 2011 in incidents related to drug trafficking; the city of Monterrey in Nuevo León; and Mazatlán, a frequent port for cruise ships.
There are no advisories in effect for Los Cabos. “Los Cabos remains largely unaffected by those incidents of violent crime that are reported in the news media,” says Alberto Coppola, president of the Los Cabos Convention and Visitors Bureau. “This is due largely in part of our isolated position at the very tip of the 1,000-mile-long Baja Peninsula, which is far removed from these troubled areas in distance, ambience, and infrastructure.”
Coppola continues: “From a statistical perspective, the state of Baja California Sur maintains the fifth-lowest crime rate of all 31 México states, according to a statement released by our governor. Our average homicide rate over the course of the last four years totals 2.98 deaths per 100,000 in population. By way of comparison, the national average for the United States is 5.0.” Still, there are many people in the United States and Canada who have not looked beyond the headlines and into the raw numbers that confirm Los Cabos as a safe, comfortable tourist destination.
Les and Crystal Hudema, from Yorkton, Saskatchewan, Canada, recently made their first visit to Los Cabos. They came to stay two weeks with Les’s brother, Mervin Hudema, and his wife, Clarinda, who were vacationing in San José del Cabo for two months. “The older people we know were petrified,” Crystal says. “I told them that a good friend of ours got robbed at knifepoint at the [Yorkton] supercenter.” Les says even though his brother, who has been vacationing in México for 11 years, assured him of the safety and hospitality he has experienced, he still had reservations. “This is our first time in México,” Les says. “Of course [safety’s] always in the back of your mind. But we were open-minded. You just have to be careful, like you would anywhere. We were never scared once while we were here, never felt threatened.” “I’d be more scared of the locals at home,” Crystal adds.
After vacationing in such popular tourist spots as Mazatlán, Puerto Vallarta, the Mayan Riviera, and Cancún, Mervin and Clarinda decided to spend two months in Los Cabos this year. “We weren’t scared of coming here,” Clarinda says. “Now, we went once with friends who go to Mission, Texas, for vacation; they go across the border to [Tamaulipas] for cheap booze. I never felt safe there.”
Clarinda and her husband say they have no fears in Los Cabos, where they walk from place to place and “even take the public transportation at night” without incident. “Our kids have been coming here for eight years with their children,” Mervin says. “They’d move here if they could.”
Mervin says the tourist police program indicates an awareness on the part of Los Cabos officials about the need to reassure tourists. “They know tourism is the industry here,” he says.
Los Cabos has managed to grow its tourism while other parts of México have declined, according to figures released by the Mexico Tourism Board. “While all of México has experienced a few challenges over the year, Los Cabos has been able to maintain a steady increase in tourist arrivals over the past two years,” Coppola says. “For example, the Los Cabos Convention and Visitors Bureau reported a 3 percent increase in hotel occupancy levels in 2011 as compared to 2010, and a 7 percent overall increase from 2009. According to the latest data available, Los Cabos welcomed over 1.2 million tourists to the destination in 2011, clearly demonstrating that international and domestic travelers view Los Cabos as an appealing and safe vacation destination.
“It is also important to note that we have a very high percentage of return customers; on average, over one third of the travelers that visit Los Cabos are repeat visitors. I think this speaks volumes about our offerings and safety record as a destination.”
Coppola points out that Los Cabos saw more than 930,000 international travelers arrive via commercial airlines last year. The airlines have taken note, he says, and, as a result, travelers can look forward to even more flights. “At the end of 2010, we welcomed Virgin America to Los Cabos with their flight service from San Francisco International Airport. Los Cabos was the second international destination and 13th destination in the airline’s growing network at the time.
“Most recently, we announced the launch of Southwest Airline’s new nonstop service to Los Cabos from Orange County, California, to Los Cabos via AirTran Airways, which is scheduled to launch later this year. The new flight will be available once daily, seven times per week.”
Clearly, the image of Los Cabos is emerging from the shadow cast by other parts of México that have been riddled with violence. Rodríguez says he hopes the tourist police help cement the image. “I am a local, so for me it is simple,” he says. “If we do not take care of the tourists, Cabo is not going to live.”