Travel to the forbidden Zone — Part 2 of 3: Mexico: Perceived vs. Real Threats

ExpertFlyer Hot Topics – Where the Rubber Meets the Runway

In part two of our three-part Hot Topic series on travel to the forbidden zone, we examine real vs. perceived threats associated with travel to Mexico.  International SOS’ Regional Security Manager, Pablo Weisz, shares key insights.  In case you missed part one of our series, click the link provided and read John Rendeiro’s take on international business travel safety. International SOS is the world’s leading international healthcare, medical assistance, and security services company.

Pablo Weisz, Regional Security Manager, Americas, International SOS and Control Risks

Pablo Weisz, Regional Security Manager, Americas, International SOS & Control Risks

Participants in the International SOS Duty of Care and Travel Risk Management Global Benchmarking Study ranked Mexico as the most dangerous place to do business, above countries like Iraq, Nigeria and even Afghanistan. That begs the question about risk perception vs. reality about a country that, for the most part and in the majority of its territory, offers a benign business traveler environment.

Four key factors can affect security risk perception:

  • The type of stakeholder responsible for the security of employees (perception varies by industry and position within the organization);
  • Geographical areas of operation (company location and familiarity with the security issues said location);
  • Ethos and Duty of Care  (the degree to which the company clearly defines its responsibility for the wellbeing of employees);
  • The influence of media reportage over risk perception.

Mexico’s position in the “Number 1” spot is likely the result of an image problem. However, some realities, like these, are impossible to ignore:

  • Since the inauguration of President Felipe Calderon in late 2006, there have been 48,000 deaths. A sharp climb occurred from 2007 through 2010, with a plateau in 2011 at between 12,000 and 15,000 deaths – but this is little comfort to both Mexicans and the companies that operate there.
  • In 2007, the key geographical area of concern was along the northern Mexican border. Due to a rise in violent incidents, that has expanded it to include all northern border states, the Western States of Durango and Sinaloa, the Eastern State of Veracruz and the Southern State of Guerrero. The current trend points to further expansion of what we consider to be high risk zones but this still falls short of designating the majority of Mexican territory under such a rating.
  • There are additional concerns over formerly safe areas, such as Monterrey, Mexico’s industrial capital, which has seen a rapid deterioration in its security environment since 2008. The city of Guadalajara, another important business traveler destination, shares similarities with Monterrey and could be the next “benign” spot to fall victim to rising violence.
  • A general lack of trust in the judicial system and public institutions remains. The Federal Police and military have replaced municipal police forces that are too corrupt to conduct its own public security duties. But these replacements are much less adept at handling public security issues and tend to be unfamiliar with the zones they are now being asked to patrol.
  • This has had two major effects; namely the rise of ancillary crimes, such as street crime and “express kidnapping” and the frequency of human rights violations at the hands of security forces.

However, the perception of Mexico as the top risk to employees is not entirely accurate. The following issues point to this discrepancy:

  • The homicide rate in Mexico, although high, is not the highest in the world nor that of Latin America, with Honduras and Venezuela ranking much higher by comparison.
  • Drug war related violence rarely affects innocent people. For foreigners, the incidence is negligible.
  • It is true that some companies, particularly those in manufacturing, operate in the aforementioned higher risk northern border states. However, a large number of foreign companies have operations well outside these risk zones in relatively benign environments.
  • As salient examples business travelers and employees in Mexico City face very low risks of being affected by the ongoing conflict. Those with operations in the states of Campeche and Yucatan or well known cities like Cabo San Lucas, Merida or Cancun are unlikely to face high risk situations.
  • The crimes of kidnapping and extortion rarely affect international companies and their employees. In fact, most employees are at a much higher likelihood of being affected by opportunistic street crime and theft than any other type of incident.

Learn more about Duty of Care on the International SOS blog, Dialogues on Duty of Care, at

Next week we’ll further explore Mexico’s image problem and provide important security measures that should be taken by organizations operating in the country.


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