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Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Continues Apparent Mexico Smear Campaign

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        Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Continues Apparent Mexico Smear Campaign

By Tom Brussow, President-Sunsational Beach Vacations

For close to a year, it appears that Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter Raquel Rutledge has been waging what amounts to a smear campaign against the very popular vacation destination of Mexico. As the owner of a Milwaukee area travel agency, I have been following this with great concern.

What started out as a “consumer watchdog report” has become an ongoing series of sensationalized front page articles, all citing and heavily relying on generally the same small collection of anecdotal and unsubstantiated stories. Increasingly, the reporter appears bent on casting blame and seems to be on personal mission to create fear, misconception and convince the public that Mexico is an unsafe place for U.S travelers to vacation. But is it really?

In a recent article, the reporter predictably pointed the finger at travel agents and tour package providers claiming that we are not doing our job in informing consumers of the supposed risks of vacationing in Mexico. This line of thinking by Ms. Rutledge only further demonstrates her lack of understanding of the travel industry as she appears to have little insight on the role of travel agents and tour companies such as Apple Vacations. In the absence of that knowledge, she would have you believe that we are all negligent and/or somehow irresponsible. Nothing could be farther from the truth. As a frequent visitor to Mexico with over 50 trips and counting, I am dialed in on behalf of our clients who count on me and my team for advice and counsel as they consider their vacation plans.

That said, what exactly does Ms. Rutledge think we should we be warning our clients about as it relates to their potential trip to Mexico? Do bad things happen to travelers while they’re in Mexico? Yes, unfortunately they do. At the same time, on any given weekend, in Milwaukee, Chicago, Las Vegas, Orlando, New York and pretty much every city, everywhere, bad things happen. That is just a fact. Let's be real, some could rightfully argue that in a relative comparison, it makes more sense that the Mexican media and authorities should be warning their citizens about coming here to the U.S to vacation, not vice versa!

In the last front page headline, the reporter clearly makes accusations of malpractice toward agents and tour companies who have/will fail to know the specific proven details and safety record of every resort in every destination and proactively share that information with travelers. This is setting an unattainable expectation and I believe most reasonable consumers would agree. What other product or industry currently operates with this level of expectation? The answer…none that I can think of.

I am not saying that the people whose anecdotal reports are featured in the stories don’t believe what they have experienced is real. As a father, I am extremely sympathetic to the tragic story that originally precipitated and is at the center of the articles. At the same time, while these unrelated accounts serve to support the premise of the articles, the numbers and the vacation experiences of 99.99% of U.S. travelers to Mexico clearly do not.

Consider that the number of incidents cited by the reporter are extremely small in comparison to the total number of U.S. visitors to Mexico. The articles point to a total of 170 separate reports going all the way back to 2009. Last year alone, close to 26 million U.S. travelers visited Mexico (about 7 Million to the Cancun/Riviera Maya resorts) which was the most ever and a 24% increase over 2016. I can’t even calculate how small a percentage the reported incidents represent given these facts! However, the public would never know this as none of the stories ever cited any visitor data that would quantify, and allow the reader to better understand, the relative scope of the issues raised.

If there was indeed a widespread problem related to alcohol blackouts, staff conduct or other safety related issues, the number of reported cases would have to be exponentially higher. There would surely be extensive supporting cell phone video evidence of wrongdoing, arrests, criminal convictions, civil lawsuits, significant social media backlash, etc. To the contrary, outside of a report or two of the Mexican government cracking down on some bootleg tequila operations and the seizure of some unlicensed alcohol, there is really no hard evidence offered in the articles of anything concrete…only allegations and speculation.

In the lead up to the busy spring break travel season, the articles definitely had a negative effect as, out of fear and misconception, many travelers chose an alternative destination this year. However, many others, citing their own personal experiences on past Mexico trips, opted to return to Cancun, Riviera Maya, and Puerto Vallarta in large numbers. I am pleased to report that as our clients are now returning home from their trips, there have been no issues regarding safety, alcohol quality, or any of the other related concerns as the articles have raised.

To the contrary, the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. For example, Olivia P., a client from Brookfield, WI who stayed at the El Dorado Royale Resort in Riviera Maya said; “Thanks for checking in! Everything was amazing. Literally 5/5 on everything. The food was fantastic, the customer service was amazing, and we fell in love with the resort and the staff. I honestly have no complaints as everything was beyond incredible”.

I fully expect that as additional trip feedback continues to come in, we’ll hear many more reports similar to those we received from Olivia. So, why am I so confident?

It is my firm belief (supported by extensive first-hand personal experience) that the people of Mexico are without a doubt among the friendliest, most gracious, hard-working, honest, and amazing people I have had the pleasure to meet. I am also confident that there are thousands of my travel industry colleagues who work on the front lines caring for travelers who would whole heartedly agree.

Above all, when you travel to Mexico, the resort and the staff are focused on providing the best possible service and experience for their guests fully realizing that tourism is the lifeblood of their economy. They frequently and quite sincerely express their gratitude for American tourists who they feel are directly responsible for the highly valued job that allows them to provide for their kids and helps to ensure their families can enjoy a much better life than generations of Mexican people before them.

Knowing that, I seriously question the motives of the reporter and if she is giving us a real story or if this just another example of sensationalized news invented to draw the consumer’s attention. Or, more cynically, is it really more about business and simply a ploy to drive lucrative clicks for the company website or notoriety for the reporter? Well, if you look at their website, it is hard to deny that they are employing these Mexico safety stories as “click bait”.

I also have to question if the reporter or the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has taken the proper journalistic steps to truly investigate these issues. Has the reporter actually even been to Mexico and done the necessary diligence to visit the resorts, interview guests, conduct independent tests of the alcohol or personally observe the level of service being provided by the resort staff? I have never seen a reference to this happening in any of the articles so I can only assume it was never done. Without this first-hand knowledge, isn’t this entire series of reports essentially based on hearsay and hype?

So then, do we as travel agents, along with our tour company and resort suppliers, have a role in informing the public? Of course we do. It is part of our job and one of the key reasons why our clients trust and depend on us. As professional travel agents, we draw upon our training, experience and industry resources to field a variety of questions and assist consumers in planning and purchasing a safe and memorable vacation. We utilize our close contacts on the ground in Mexico, personal visits, constant traveler feedback, and many online agent forums where up-to-date information is shared on a daily basis to keep us informed.

And to that same end, so does the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and the reporter. They owe it to the public to present fully vetted factual, unbiased, and complete reporting. They owe it to the reader and those they are making claims against to do their homework and to understand the full extent of information they are feeding to the public as it has significant consequences across many interests. Have they conclusively done this in their Mexico reporting in my view? Absolutely not. Does it appear that they are out to smear the destination of Mexico and spin the narrative to support some agenda and benefit personally or financially? From my perspective, it certainly seems like it.

So what then should you do with all of this information?

First and foremost, separate fact from fiction and find an experienced travel agent that you trust.

Then, when travelling to Mexico, you should take the normal precautions as you would travelling anywhere else in the world. Be aware of the people and conditions around you. Travel together with others especially late at night or in unpopulated areas.

A vital part of staying safe is keeping your wits about you, so be cautious about overindulging in alcohol, and avoid recreational drugs, which despite what you may have heard, are illegal in Mexico. Take into account the intensity of the sun, the heat, and your physical needs for the proper hydration, sleep and nutrition. 

In addition, we always recommend the purchase of trip insurance.

With this and the strong safety measures being taken by the resorts, the local community and the great people of Mexico, you should expect to have a wonderful vacation as planned!

If You Have Questions About The Information in This Article, Travel to Mexico or Are Ready to Book Your Next Vacation to a Beautiful Mexico Beach Contact:

Tom Brussow at 262-465-4600 or tom@SunsationalBeachVacations.com


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Our clients relate to Mexico vs Chicago when thinking of a safe place to travel. Could be Mexico is safer!


I’m a british expat, with a 10 month young son and a 3 year young daughter, I hold an executive position in a 900 room resort, I live a safe life, safety is not a concern for my family or my guests, frankly I’m more afraid of visiting certisn popular areas of the the US than living in Mexico. Gun control here is tighter than in the US of A, I’d know after living there for a decade. Come on down, have fun and be mesmerized by the Mexican magic ways.


What triggered my BS detector on the MJS articles is that in all the cases they remembered how much alcohol were served, but they lost memory after counting exactly how much they drank. How convenient. It doesn't make any sense. Pure sensationalistic BS.



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What Do Our Clients Have to Say? Here's Some Feedback We Recently Received:

Destination: Punta Cana
Resort: Now Larimar

Freddie Macalus, our travel agent was amazing! He did a wonderful job helping us not only determine the best location for our destination wedding, but he also helped work with us hand in hand with the wedding planner at the resort to ensure our day went off without a hitch. Most people say that something will go wrong the day of your wedding, but we can say that was truly not the case. Freddie also did an awesome job working with all 40 of our traveling guests in booking their trips, which was no easy task. We had a lot of people traveling from different states and for different durations and the feedback we got from everyone was that Freddie was great in providing them with options and helping them through all their bookings.

Can't say enough great things about Freddie Macalus and Sunsational Beach Vacations!!!! Highly recommend this company and this travel agent to anyone looking to book a trip or a destination wedding!

Destination: Riviera Maya, MX
Resort: Secrets Silversands

We had such a great time at the Secrets Silversands Riviera Cancun. I also was very happy that I got to work with you to coordinate the group travel event for us and all of our guests. You were super nice, always helpful, and willing to listen to all of my questions! I always felt like you were available to talk and discuss things and followed up with responses to my questions very rapidly. I had positive feedback from my guests that you were very nice and easy to work with. I would certainly work with you again on travel arrangements!

Destination: Punta Cana
Resort: Breathless

We all had an AMAZING time at Breathless! The hotel was great, food was actually a lot better than I expected, drinks and staff were awesome as well. I think how lively the resort was worked out perfect for all ten of us who wanted to party and celebrate the boys’ 30th birthday. We were very satisfied with your recommendation and will certainly be using you in the future for our next vacation.

Thanks again for all of your help!—I wish we were still on the beach!

Destination: Riviera Maya, MX
Resort: El Dorado Casitas Royale, By Karisma

What an amazing trip you planned for us. It was everything we wanted and more!!! The hotel was amazing, the food was spectacular, and the service was impeccable. We truly lived like royalty. Makes coming back to the real world quite a bummer. We've already begun telling people about the property and referring them to contact you.
We would love to look into a trip around the same time next year.
Again, thank you for making this trip so fantastic and easy to put together.

Nothing but smiles here and we are 1000% (that's not a typo ) satisfied with you and everything involved with the trip.

Thanks again!!

Chris and Angela
Dallas, TX

Destination: Punta Cana, DR
Resort: Hard Rock Resort & Casino

"My husband and I decided to get married in Mexico at Iberostar Grand over Labor Day weekend. It was a large destination wedding as we had 130 guests traveling. Tom and his group did a phenomenal job of coordinating everyone's accommodations, travel plans and transportation. As far as I know, there was not one guest that had any difficulty with their trip. Everyone arrived safely and on time! Tom made himself available for discussion at all hours throughout the planning process and was never difficult to reach. He was extremely knowledgable about the area we were traveling to and worked with the people at Iberostar to provide all of our guests with the getaway they deserved. We will use Tom over and over again for our future group travels and recommend him to anyone getting married :)"

Kristin & Rob
Iberostar Grand
Riviera Maya, Mexico
September 2014

"Tom helped us book our engagement trip. We then needed to discuss wedding stuff. After much debate and family discussions, Deanna and I decided to do a destination wedding in Mexico, and decided that we had such success with Tom helping just us two, that we would love to use him again. He was extremely helpful in getting everything organized for us. From helping friends and relatives book flights, nights stays, discount programs, transfers to and from the airport and working in close connection with Apple to make sure everybody arrived safe and sound. To say that we were beyond happy and pleased would be an understatement. EVERYTHING was perfect, flawless and extremely stress free. Deanna and I want to thank Tom for everything to make our trips so wonderful!!! He has been a part of our engagement, wedding/honeymoon and hopefully trips here in the near future. I highly recommend using his services."

Deanna & Joe
Secrets Silversands
Riviera Maya
March 2014

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