Perception and reality of 5 tourist spots in turmoil



The situation: A gigantic oil plume is leaking from BP’s underwater well in the Gulf of Mexico and fouling everything in its path, including the beaches along Florida’s Panhandle, where tar balls have washed ashore. The leak has spread since an oil rig explosion on April 20

Financial hit: Sean Snaith, director of the University of Central Florida’s Institute for Economic Competitiveness, estimates the state could lose anywhere from $2.2 billion to $10.9 billion in tourism spending, causing the loss of 39,000 to 195,000 jobs.

The response: Visit Florida, the state’s tourism marketing arm, has live Web cams positioned along beaches and Twitter feeds from thousands of residents providing updates on the oil spill impact. Many hotels are also bending cancellation policies. Lonely Planet editor Robert Reid suggests that tourists seek out hotels allowing them to cancel without penalty if oil washes ashore.

The reality: Chris Thompson, chief executive of Visit Florida, notes that Florida has 825 miles of beaches and “a certain small portion of that is being affected at the extreme western portion of the Panhandle.” So there’s still plenty of clean beach to go around.


The situation: The slums of capital city Kingston erupted into a shooting gallery in May when police raided the compound of Christopher “Dudus” Coke, a suspected drug and gun smuggler. 73 people were killed.

Financial hit: $300 million in lost tourism revenue, according to John Lynch, chairman of the Jamaica Tourist Board.

The response: The industry is trying to recover its losses through a proactive public relations campaign, according to Lynch. Travel agents and journalists are being flown into the country to show them that the beach resorts are far from the violence and unaffected by it. “What happened was in a defined area of Kingston,” says Lynch. “The bulk of all visitors stay in Montego Bay, which is three and a half to four hours away.”

The reality: For the tourist hot spots of Jamaica, it’s business as usual. “Of the many people I talk to who go to Jamaica, very few of them actually go to Kingston, myself included,” says Lonely Planet editor Robert Reid.


The situation: Drug violence has killed about 23,000 Mexicans since Felipe Calderon became president in 2006. The U.S. government has issued travel warnings to a half-dozen border cities forming the nucleus of this conflict, including Ciudad Juarez, with more than 5,000 murders since 2008.

Financial hit: Tourist revenue dropped 15% to $11.2 billion in 2009 from the prior year, while the number of tourists declined almost 5% to 21.5 million, according to Mexico’s Tourism Board, but the group blames much of that drop-off on 2009’s H1N1 pandemic. The National Tourism Confederation, a Mexican travel industry trade group, projects 2010 revenue will rebound to $13.3 billion, with 22.8 million visitors.

The response: Travel experts want to remind tourists that Mexico is a big country — bigger than its border. David Lytle, editorial director of, says that avoiding Mexico because of drug violence “is like saying don’t go to the U.S. because there are troubles in a city there.” Destinations further south, like Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Tulum and Isla Mujeres on the Yucatan peninsula, are safer.

The reality: Lonely Planet editor Robert Reid says his favorite city is Merida, an off-the-beaten path inland city with weekly street festivals. “One of the great things about being in the U.S. is that you’re close to Mexico, because it’s so diverse, it’s so wonderful,” he says.


The situation: Bangkok descended into chaos in May as thousands of protestors rebelled against the military regime, taking over parts of the city and torching 30 buildings in the city center. In all, about 50 people were killed and 400 injured.

Financial hit: Thai Finance Minister Korn Korn Chatikavanij has told CNN that the protest took a 0.3% to 0.5% chunk out of the national gross domestic product, meaning a loss of up to $1.35 billion.

The response: The unrest is over, at least for now. “The security situation in Bangkok has become more stable, and life is beginning to return to normal,” reads a post on “Travelers should still exercise extreme caution and be aware of any developments as they arise.”

The reality: Bangkok is still available for the intrepid traveler, as well as other tourist hot spots, like Phuket, a party beach paradise in the south, and Chiang Mai, a northern Mecca for jungle trekking with elephants. But the U.S. government advises that travelers “remain vigilant with regard to their personal security and avoid crowds and demonstrations.”


The situation: Massive riots paralyzed Athens in May, after the cash-strapped and debt-ridden Greek government announced austerity measures would be imposed on the population. The mayhem appeared to climax with the fire-bombing of a bank that killed three employees, including a pregnant woman.

Financial hit: While no official estimate of the financial impact is available, it is certain to affect an economy where tourism accounts for about 15% of Greece’s gross domestic product.

The response: The turmoil is over, at least for now. “The recent protests in Athens against the economic crisis, and the austerity measures taken by the Government were limited both in time and space,” said Polyxeni Mastroperrou, spokeswoman for the Permanent Mission of Peace to the U.N. “They occurred only in the center of the capital and didn’t last long.”

The reality: The Aegean islands — including Crete, Santorini and Mykonos — were left unscathed. Lonely Planet travel editor Robert Reid says there is “no sign” of any trouble that would disrupt “a complete paradise vacation in the Greek islands.” And with a relatively weak euro, this might be a great opportunity for U.S. travelers.