As I considered Mexico's "brand performance," I thought about a few reporting trips I took there in the mid-1990s for another magazine. One was for a business innovation story in Jalisco (still a favorite of American expats), where the only war was among cheerful distillers of the blue agave.
Another was to Tamaulipas, where the government was trying to cast the cloud forest as a rising ecotourism haven. The terrain was spectacular, even if the sample excursion was charmingly rough around the edges. (The transmission of my guide's old, state-issued Chevy Suburban slipped ominously as we tackled steep grades. A planned short walkabout became a surreal five-hour climb during which gray squirrels kept being positioned as exotica.)
The capital, Ciudad Victoria, felt safe enough. But I remember leaving a hotel at dusk and seeing a man leaning against a wall with a lever-action rifle in his hands.
So what's it like there today?
"Tamaulipas probably wouldn't be so inviting right now," says Sara, describing a colleague who was trailed while trying to report at a school near Reynosa – then confronted and asked to leave.
In reporting this piece, Sara says she found hospitality – if some reticence – everywhere. But too few revealing, in-country trips are being planned anymore, she says. For now, that makes perceptions tough to change, and a national brand hard to lift.
"There are still great things going on," she says, "but people are not taking the risk to show them."
• Clayton Collins is the editor of the weekly edition. Monitor editor John Yemma returns to this space next week.