Mexican port suffers loss of cruise ships

ByABC News
February 20, 2012, 7:54 PM

— -- MAZATLÁN, Mexico — Jorge Figueroa made a living offering tours of this fishing port to passengers from the cruise ships lines that arrived regularly.

The guide and father would take tourists on shopping excursions, jaunts to Spanish colonial villages, zip line adventures and tastings at a distillery making a tequila-like liquor.

Nowadays he sits idle. Cruise ships stopped calling on Mazatlán in 2011 over security concerns, driving down his business by 80% and forcing him to moonlight as a night auditor in a hotel to make ends meet.

"I feel lucky," Figueroa, 34, says. "There are another 60 guys without any work."

The fallout of the cruise ships abandoning Mazatlán can be seen in the many shuttered businesses and the easy driving along streets that at this time of year were once clogged with cars ferrying tourists to the sights.

Guides, tourism officials and locals insist Mazatlán is safe for visitors. But the problem facing Mazatlán, famed for the biggest Carnaval celebrations on the Pacific, highlights a continuing challenge for Mexico's tourism industry as it tries to counter the perceptions of danger stemming from a crackdown on drug cartels and organized crime that has claimed more than 47,000 lives nationwide over the past five years — largely in areas far from traditional tourist destinations.

Total visits to Mexico grew by 2% last year over 2010, reports the federal Tourism Secretariat. But cruise ship dockings declined by 15% nationwide last year, and dropped a staggering 79% in Mazatlán, the biggest decline of any port in the country, according to the Communications and Transportation Secretariat.

Industry giants Carnival Cruise Lines, Princess Cruises, Holland America Line, Norwegian Cruise Line and Disney Cruise Line stopped calling on Mazatlán last year. The liners altered itineraries to spend more time in Cabo San Lucas and Huatulco, and to include new destinations such as Manzanillo.

Cruise lines have also stopped calling on Acapulco. When they will return to Mazatlán remains uncertain.

"Discussions will continue with local authorities … to determine the appropriate time to resume port calls," Holland America Line said in statement.

Tourism officials say the cruise lines are steaming by because they can make more money heading to other ports of call, not because of safety concerns.

"It's because of the economy," said Oralia Rice, Sinaloa state tourism secretary, explaining that the cruise industry could probably make more money sending its ships to places such as Australia and the Mediterranean.

Rice says the cruise ships continue to visit stops that are more dangerous.

"The level of incidents in some of the ports of call they go are much higher than ours … L.A. or Miami, for example," Rice says, claiming the cruise lines may be going elsewhere to sell more expensive tickets.

Disney Cruise Line spokeswoman Lauren Falcone agreed that none of her company's passengers had experienced problems in Mazatlán. But she said there were good reasons for dropping it from the list.

"Evaluating itineraries is something Disney Cruise Line does on a regular basis, and we believe this revised itinerary offers the best possible family vacation experience for our guests," she said in an e-mail.