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Kai Ryssdal: The reports of violence along the U.S.-Mexico border are just the kind of negative publicity that make the Mexican tourism industry cringe. So it's launched what you might call a counter-offensive. From the Americas Desk at WLRN, Marketplace's Dan Grech reports.
DAN GRECH: In February, the State Department put out a travel alert to U.S. citizens about drug-related violence in Mexico. The news media jumped on the story. Colleges told spring breakers to avoid heading south. Hotels in Cancun, Cabo San Lucas and Puerto Vallarta all reported sudden drops in business. This, just as Mexico was coming off a banner year for tourism. It needed American visitors to weather the global recession. Teresa Villareal is with the Mexico Tourism Board.
TERESA VILLAREAL: Tourism provides employment to one out of nine persons in the country. It provides 28 percent of the GDP.
The government agency put out the standard media alerts and billboard ads.
It also turned to the Internet. It set up its own channel on the video-sharing Web site YouTube.
And it joined with tour operator itravel2000 to create a Web site called WhatIsReallyHappeningInMexico.com. The site featuring former travel show host Scott Sheehan in Mexico, surfing, scaling mountains and sipping cocktails in top tourist towns. He posted 90 videos in two weeks. In this one, Sheehan interviews two scuba divers in Cozumel.
SCOTT SHEEHAN: You know that it's supposed to be pretty scary in Mexico right now, right?
SCUBA DIVER I: Yeah, we heard about that before we came down.
SCUBA DIVER II: No. It's great underwater.
SHEEHAN: So when you were down underwater, you didn't, I don't know, see any gunmen or anything down there.
SCUBA DIVER II: No, not at all. I'd say pack your bags and come on down anyways.
SCUBA DIVER I: Yeah, me too.
The videos have been viewed more than 100,000 times. Scott Sheehan says his message is clear.
SHEEHAN: Ninety-nine percent of people that go down there basically are in a tourist bubble. They're really not going to be in contact in any way, shape or form with warring drug gangs.
Producing and marketing Sheehan's videos cost just thousands. A traditional media campaign costs millions. Brad Miron is with itravel2000. He says before creating the Web site, bookings were down by two-thirds.
BRAD MIRON: The numbers of people booking to Mexico have come back. And we believe it's because they've been able to answer that burning question in their mind: Is Mexico safe?
Other tour operators in Mexico have taken a different tack. They're running ads for Cancun without mentioning what country it's in.
I'm Dan Grech for Marketplace.