A tourism insider changes his mind about Mexico

Mexico doesn’t need any more bad press. Between drug violence and natural disasters, it’s had enough, thanks very much.

All of which makes Dave Dudar’s story so difficult for him to tell — and for me to write.

Dudar has been a frequent visitor to Cancun since 1998. He’s also worked in the tourism industry as a former marketing official for Meet College Park Georgia, the convention and visitors bureau for the Georgia city that houses Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, as well as with Vail Resorts and United Airlines.

“This is the fourth time I have rented a car in this country in four years,” he told me.

It is probably the last.

“Twice in five days, the Cancun police stopped me and issued me tickets while I was driving a rental car in Mexico,” he says.

Dudar says he’s a careful driver. He hasn’t had a speeding ticket in almost a decade.

“And I have had no tickets or hassles driving in Mexico,” he says, “until now.”

He explains,

My encounters with the Cancun police were notably similar, with small and interesting variations.

In both instances, the police car pulled me over, the patrolman approached the car, greeted me, shook my hand, took my license, and asked me to get out of the car — my passenger remained in my rental.

In both instances, the officer explained the infraction and told me that I could pick up my license at the police station in downtown Cancun the following day once I paid the fine of 2,000 pesos (the second officer rounded the amount up to 200 US$).

I described a similar shakedown at the end of a recent story about traffic fines. It’s a common problem in Cancun, if reports are to be believed.

Dudar’s first ticket was for driving 78 Kph in a 70 Kph zone. The second was for going through a yellow light. A patrol car happily facilitated this by driving slowly in front of him, then turning to deposit him in the center of the now yellow intersection. Gotcha!

“And yes, he was ready with flashing lights once I made it through,” he says.

Interestingly, the police officer eventually let him off on the first infraction. No need to go the station to pick up his license. But not on the second.

In the second case, the patrolman started bargaining with me from the start.

“The ticket is $200 if you pay it at the station tomorrow, but if you pay it right now, it is only $100.”

I protested that I didn’t have $100. He then offered $80.

Sensing that we were now bargaining as if negotiating over sunglass prices with a beach vendor, I offered $50, which he rejected — but I handed him 700 pesos (about $48) and he gave me back my license.

After that, Dudar stopped driving his car and felt a little bit like the final scene in the film Argo, where everyone is leaving Iran, always watching his back to see if someone was waiting to arrest him.

He feels betrayed by Mexico, a place he’s promoted and endorsed within the tourism industry.

“Throughout all the troubles and travel advisories Mexico has experienced, I have been an advocate for continued travel here,” he says. “Mexico provides color, texture and warmth — both temperature and service — with unrivaled value and noteworthy proximity to the US. And Cancun — on paper, at least — is a perfect place to rent a car. The roads are great, the signage clear, and attractions numerous. Moreover, renting a car is inexpensive by US standards.”

This incident has made him change his mind about Mexico, and specifically Cancun.

“I can’t endorse this destination any longer after this experience,” he says. “While it is clear that citing law-abiding travelers is easier than stopping drug cartels, it is equally clear that Cancun turns a blind eye to the harassment of visitors in this fashion.”

I contacted Cancun’s tourism authorities to get their side of the story. Surely, Dudar was just a one-off. Perhaps he was the victim of an overzealous police department with some new recruits making traffic stops.

The response? Nothing.

I can understand this kind of thing happening in the hinterlands, where tourists never venture. But Cancun? Say it ain’t so.

Then again, destinations — and particularly those that depend on tourism — often struggle to balance their relationships with visitors. I mean, how many American destinations saddle their car rental customers with stadium and convention center fees that are non-negotiable or their hotel guests with bed taxes that fund destination marketing, also arbitrarily imposed?

At least the cops who pulled Dudar over tried to negotiate with him.

Are Cancun's traffic stops a scam?

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