Pity the Mexican tourism officials.
The country they're charged with promoting boasts everything a marketer could want: rich history, resonant culture, friendly people, gorgeous beaches, moderate climate. And it shares a border with the U.S.
But the horrific stories of violence and pandemonium bred of the country's pervasive narco-terrorism contradict the balmy tranquility depicted in the glossy brochures and travel posters.
No wonder the country is a hard sell.
For several years, I was comfortable promoting Mexico as a compelling travel value. Demand was weak, so airlines and hoteliers routinely discounted their rates. And the violence, while extreme, was concentrated in specific areas and seemed easily avoidable.
But as the carnage continued and the country looked increasingly like a failed state, my enthusiasm waned. Sure, the odds of becoming a victim of the country's drug wars are still infinitesimally small. But why even subject yourself to the anxiety when there are plenty of stress-free destinations vying for your travel dollar?
Even as my support for Mexico travel cooled, I have been watching for signs that the situation was changing, either for better or worse. And this week, Mexico's Ministry of Tourism had some modestly encouraging news, reporting a 5 percent increase in the number of tourists arriving by air during the first quarter of 2013.
That's hardly a turn-around in the country's fortunes. But it could be a sign that travelers are slowly gaining a better understanding of which destinations are more danger-prone (Acapulco, for instance) and which are safer (Puerto Vallarta), rather than dismissing the country outright as an undifferentiated whole.
The stakes for Mexico are high. In 2012, tourism accounted for $11 billion in revenues, and was the third-largest source of foreign-exchange earnings, after oil and money sent back to in-country friends and relatives by emigrants.
Reader Reality Check
What's your take on Mexico as a travel destination: go-go or no-go?
This article originally appeared on FrequentFlier.com.