Meeting Professionals International's flagship event is heading to Riviera Maya, Mexico, in June. But, after several violent clashes involving drug cartels, some meeting professionals are asking if it is safe.
Several highly-publicized incidents of violence in Mexico have raised concerns about visiting. Meeting Professionals International’s (MPI) signature event, the World Education Congress (WEC), takes place in Mexico on June 13-15 at the all-inclusive Barceló Riviera Maya. Meeting professionals are taking heed.
A Mexico travel alert issued by the U.S. Embassy in March has heightened concern. “Crime, including violent crime, can occur anywhere in Mexico, including in popular tourist destinations. Travelers should maintain a high level of situational awareness, avoid areas where illicit activities occur, and promptly depart from potentially dangerous situations,” the alert states.
Regardless, as of May 8, WEC registration was approaching 1,300 attendees, with nearly 600 planners registered.
This is the first time in the association’s 50-year history that its flagship congress is held outside of the U.S. and Canada. A total of 1,652 attendees gathered last year in San Francisco for the previous edition.
One meeting professional who wishes to remain anonymous shared why this is the first WEC she will not be attending in many years. “Although I am sure MPI has done its due diligence and is taking extra precautions for the safety of all WEC attendees, it doesn’t seem like the ideal time to have an event in a destination under an alert. Part of having an event is enjoying the entire destination, not just the venues specific to the event. As event planners, we are already stressed. Why add more? Plus, this is a logistical nightmare.”
MPI stresses that Quintana Roo, the host state of this year’s WEC, is not among the six Mexican states listed on the “Do Not Travel” list.
“We acknowledge and understand that recent news stories may have caused some hesitation for individual participation at WEC. It’s important to clarify that generalized advisories on travel, or leading news stories, can be very misleading and not reflective of the actual local conditions. In 2022, over 35 million tourists safely visited and enjoyed the state of Quintana Roo, where WEC 23 is located. While, as in any destination around the world, there may be specific areas and/or activities to avoid, high-end, all-inclusive properties in Mexico — like the Barceló — remain inherently safe,” said Holmgreen.
How MPI is Ensuring Participant Safety in Mexico
MPI released a statement and video highlighting how MPI is creating a worry-free WEC experience. “As is always our approach with any event, MPI works directly with local, state, and federal governments regarding our attendee safety and security. Our destination in Mexico is no different. To that end, we are collaborating and contracting with providers who will ensure participant safety and security throughout all aspects of the event, including secured transportation and onsite protocols within the Barceló properties,” said MPI president and CEO Paul Van Deventer.
MPI has organized private transportation to and from all venues. Note that Uber is not available in Riviera Maya. “From roundtrip transportation to and from Cancun airport to the five-star experience at Barceló, our host facility, to the President’s Dinner at Hilton Tulum to our opening celebration at Xcaret, WEC and all official WEC activities will be held in secure locations with equally secure transportation,” said Drew Homgreen, MPI’s chief brand officer.
Safety is a Global Issue
Mexico isn’t the only country dealing with violence, states MaryAnne Bobrow, CAE, CMP Fellow, CMM, founder of Bobrow Associates. How about the U.S.? “As we have seen in this country, violence can happen at your local shopping mall without reason. I am always cautious when I travel and observant of my surroundings at all times. But I am not really worried,” she said. In addition, she stresses that attendees make sure they are on the MPI transport list for all off-site events.
David Buckalew, CMP, of Buckalew Hospitality, will attend this year’s MPI WEC. “I am not any more or any less worried about security or safety than I was in Toronto, San Francisco, or Vegas for my last three WECs. If anything, I likely won’t be out and about in the local city like I was in San Francisco and Toronto, so unless there is a threat to the resort area, it’s not any more of a concern than anywhere else I would travel to,” said Buckalew.
Although some are concerned, others are excited. “As an event professional, I attend conferences like WEC to learn and network, but also to relax and enjoy the host destination. Some people may be worried about traveling to Mexico, but I’ve visited the country many times and consider it a safe destination,” said Dustin Westling, managing partner of OneWest Event Design & Logistics. “Mexico values tourism and takes the safety of visitors seriously. Like any destination, there are always potential risks when traveling, so it’s important to be aware of potential hazards and take appropriate precautions. However, it’s worth noting that crime in Mexico is not typically aimed at tourists, and tourist areas are actually some of the safest and most secure locations in the country.”