BILLINGS — It's spring break for many this week and AAA says international travel is up 30% from last year.
The travel agency says some of the top destinations are Mexican getaways, like Cancun, but in the wake of recent violence in which four Americans were kidnapped in the border town of Matamoros, some may be nervous about heading south.
When Marc Dean thinks of Mexico, his mind goes underwater.
“Mexico to me is wonderful," Dean says, "Just like every place, 99.9% of the people are just happy to be there, happy to see you, we’ve had zero problems.”
Dean is the owner and instructor at Family Fun Scuba and Snorkel in Billings and leads scuba trips all over the world.
With a group headed to Mexico this weekend and a trip planned for Cozumel in September, Dean feels safe headed to the island near Cancun—even with trouble in the northern part of the country.
"Sometimes we fly into Cancun, sometimes we fly into Cozumel. It's kind of like anything in life. If you do the right things, all is good and well," Dean said.
Cancun, Riviera Maya, and Mexico City were all listed as top spring break travel destinations for US travelers this year by AAA.
But anxiety about traveling south is spreading, and Monday the Texas Department of Public Safety warned Americans not to go there for spring break. This warning came after four Americans were kidnapped (two were killed) in the border city of Matamoros on March 3. Police believe it was a case of mistaken identity by drug cartel members.
“We’re depending on their law enforcement to keep us safe, and sometimes that law enforcement isn’t adequate," said U.S. Sen. Jon Tester.
Tester, a Montana Democrat, says the kidnapping in Matamoros is a tragic reminder that when Americans travel abroad, they no longer have the protections of home.
“The truth is, it’s a foreign country, it’s not the United States, it doesn’t matter which foreign country it is, you’re depending upon that country’s government to keep you safe. And sometimes it’s inadequate, as I believe it was with the four Americans that went into Mexico," Tester said.
But not all of Mexico is equal when it comes to tourism—at least in the eyes of the U.S. State Department.
For popular spring destinations, like Cancun, Tulum, and Playa del Carmen, the state department advises it is safe to travel with increased caution, situational awareness, the avoidance of bad areas and to get out of any dangerous situations quickly.
Following the kidnapping, the State Department says firmly to not travel to Matamoros.
Dean says a lot of situations come down to common sense.
“Know where you are, know the common courtesies of where you are, know how you’re going to get around, and there’s going to be no issues—especially if you’re with a guided tour, or you’re with people who know the area really well," Dean said.
“The bottom line is we have felt nothing but safe the entire time we’ve been there.”