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Traveling to Mexico? Violent crimes uncommon in tourist areas, risk expert says

Violent crimes targeting travelers in Mexico -- such as the rape of six female Spanish tourists in Acapulco earlier this week -- are uncommon, according to the head of a travel risk management company.

“The vast majority of people do not experience these kinds of problems,” said Bruce McIndoe, president of iJET International. “I do not see any organizations in Mexico whose intent it is to target tourists.

"Are there criminals out there who target anyone out of place, or vulnerable, or weak? Sure. But it’s not that much different from any other major city on the planet, where people are advised to avoid potentially dangerous situations and areas,” said McIndoe, who frequently travels to Mexico with his family.

“Crime takes the path of least resistance," said Stephen Barth, a lawyer and professor of hospitality law at the University of Houston "You are generally going to be safer in hotels or resorts. Individual houses frequently do not have the same level of security and protection,” and may even be open or near to the beach, as the house in this incident was.

McIndoe said criminals often target tourists at separate locations such as a bar or nightclub -- places criminals have been known to visit in Acapulco's tourist areas.

Problems can arise when people put themselves at higher risk by venturing outside tourist areas, to fringe parts of town, for adventure experiences or to visit more rural areas, McIndoe said.

Incidents ranging from petty crime to murder are rare, and tourists are frequently targeted "not because they were tourists, but because they were in the wrong place, doing the wrong activity,” like buying illegal substances or visiting establishments “in seedy parts of town,” he said.

McIndoe, along with iJET analysts who specialize in Mexico, said it is possible that the gunmen are affiliated with a local gang. Gangs are prevalent in Acapulco and have recently increased their activity and are responsible for much of the city's violence.

Gangs also often work on behalf of larger, organized crime groups. Acapulco specifically has seen a substantial rise in crime over the past few years, according to iJET.

"What we're seeing is an erosion of respect for law enforcement," said Barth, founder of hospitalitylawyer.com, a website for hotel and restaurant professionals. "And when that happens, it is very difficult to protect citizens and tourists."

Mexico is on the U.S. State Department “Current Travel Warnings” list. Diamante, the popular tourist area where this week's rapes took place, “has been less affected by violence.,” according to the State Department's website.

While millions of Americans safely visit Mexico each year, the State Department issued a travel warning in November 2012, noting that resort areas and tourist destinations generally do not see the levels of violence and crime reported in other areas of Mexico, but “crime and violence are serious problems throughout the country and can occur anywhere.”

The website lists general and state-specific security information. Due to the number of kidnappings and disappearances in Mexico, it advises travelers to “lower your profile and avoid displaying any evidence of wealth that might draw attention.” For the state of Guerrero, where Acapulco is located, avoiding non-essential travel in certain areas, and best times of day and routes to travel are addressed. Tourists in certain cities, including Acapulco “should exercise caution and stay with in tourist areas.”

While news reports often highlight violent crimes, McIndoe said travelers are more likely to be affected by weather, accidents -- slips, falls, traffic accidents, etc., getting sick, and having belongings stolen.

Health issues should be more of a concern, he contends. "Food and water, that’s what will ruin a vacation.”