Chicago Sun-Times
With Lori Rackl

February 2009 Archives

Mexico: Is it safe?

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The U.S. State Department late last week updated its travel alert for U.S. residents headed to Mexico (which thousands of spring breakers are gearing up to do in coming weeks). The move was precipitated by an increase in violence, especially near the Mexico/U.S. border.

Here's a snippet:

While millions of U.S. citizens safely visit Mexico each year (including thousands who cross the land border every day for study, tourism or business), violence in the country has increased recently. It is imperative that travelers understand the risks of travel to Mexico, how best to avoid dangerous situations, and whom to contact if one becomes a crime victim. Common-sense precautions such as visiting only legitimate business and tourist areas during daylight hours, and avoiding areas where prostitution and drug dealing might occur, can help ensure that travel to Mexico is safe and enjoyable.

For the full alert, click here.

It should be noted that the State Department has labeled this a travel alert, not a travel warning, which is a more severe step aimed at discouraging Americans from traveling to a particular area.

Tourism is an extremely important source of revenue for Mexico, which is why the Mexico Tourism Board has been quick to respond to the State Department's recent alert by pointing out that Mexico is a) the 10th most visited tourist destination in the world, b) the country welcomed 22.6 million international visitors -- a 5.9 percent increase from the previous year -- in 2008, and c) the peso is down against the dollar, making Mexico an especially good value for American travelers at the moment.

Have you been to Mexico recently? If so, where? Did you feel safe?

As reported over the weekend, the United Arab Emirates denied a visa to Israeli tennis player Shahar Peer, so she is unable to play in the Dubai Tennis Championships.

Tour operator IsramWorld responded with this volley today:

New York - February 17, 2009: One of America's largest tour operators, New York-based IsramWorld has cancelled its tour programs to Dubai, it was announced today in the wake of the United Arab Emirates' decision to deny a visa to Israeli tennis player, Shahar Peer, to participate in the Dubai Tennis Championships.
"The UAE's action is an odious act of political bigotry," says A. Ady Gelber, president and CEO of IsramWorld, a leading U.S. tour operator for more than four decades and a prominent member of USTOA (the United States Tour Operators' Association), "and it reveals that despite its massive investment in tourism infrastructure, Dubai appears not ready to be a member of the world tourism family."
IsramWorld offers tours and packages to 56 countries on five continents. In the wake of the Camp David Accords, it was one of the first U.S. tour operators to offer a diverse program of tours to Egypt, and in 1994 it began offering tours to Jordan. "I am deeply disappointed in the UAE's decision, one that seems to spell a return to the grim dark days of division and discrimination," observed Gelber.
The Dubai Tennis Championships are sponsored by Barclays, Britain's fourth-biggest bank that in 2008 acquired the assets of failed U.S. investment bank, Lehman Brothers. 
According to a report in Sunday's New York Times, when U.S. tennis champion, Venus Williams, learned of Peer's visa denial she said, "All the players support Shahar, we are all athletes, and we stand for tennis." Peer and her family urged the Women's Tennis Association not to cancel the tournament because of the incident, but The New York Times took an unusually strong position in its article on the controversy, saying: "There is always going to be international conflict, and athletes in the middle. But they can't be abandoned there when there is a choice. Tennis should finish its business in the gulf this month, and say bye-bye, Dubai."
"We're saying 'bye-bye, Dubai,' right now," Gelber added.
Thoughts? Comments?

The weather may be crappy in Chicago, but the folks in Arizona want to ease your pain -- and convince you to visit the Grand Canyon State -- by offering Chicagoans free chair massages at the following locations:

Feb. 9 & 10:
Merchandise Mart Conference Center (at the bridge where the Mart meets the Apparel Center). The massage guy says he'll be there until 3:30 p.m.

Feb. 13:
First National Plaza, 70 W. Madison St., Three First National Plaza, 14th floor.


This just in from Etihad Airways: The national airline of the United Arab Emirates, will begin non-stop service to Chicago on September 2.

Chicago will be the Abu Dhabi-based airline's second U.S. destination. Etihad has operated daily service to New York (JFK) since October 2006.

The new service will increase Etihad's global flight network to 55 cities and follows confirmation that Etihad also will begin flights to Melbourne, Athens and Istanbul this year.

Chicago is the third largest market flying to the Middle East after New York and Washington, D.C. Illinois is home to one of the largest Arab-American communities in the U.S., with an estimated Arab American population of more than 230,000.

James Hogan, Etihad Airways' chief executive, said: "Starting flights to Chicago is a very proud moment in the history of Etihad Airways, and upholds our ambitious plans to link Abu Dhabi with key strategic cities around the world.

"The new service will enhance commercial and cultural ties not only between Abu Dhabi and Chicago but also between the UAE and USA, providing a daily flight for business and leisure travellers."

Etihad will operate three-cabin Airbus A340-500 aircraft configured to seat 240 passengers: 12 First, 28 Business and 200 Economy. The route will be served initially three times a week (Wed-Fri-Sun), and will increase to daily on October 1.

Etihad Airways flight EY151 will depart from Abu Dhabi International Airport at 10.20 am and arrive at Chicago O'Hare Airport Terminal 5 at 4.40 pm. Return flight EY150 will depart from Chicago at 8.30 pm and arrive in Abu Dhabi at 8.55 pm the following day.

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This page is an archive of entries from February 2009 listed from newest to oldest.

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