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Arizona Flirts With Tourists From Central Mexico

MEXICO CITY—Foreign visitors to the United States are on the decline after six straight years of growth. And that includes a drop in Mexican travelers, Arizona’s biggest source of international visitors.

Federal data from the Department of Commerce shows that visitors from Mexico dropped nearly nine percent in August 2017 compared to just a year before. In Arizona, the number of overnight travelers from Mexico has dropped from 3.85 million in 2014 to 3.69 million in 2016, their latest numbers.

But Arizona wants to convince tourists in Mexico to keep coming.

Estrella Jiménez will visit soon. She lives in Mexico City and recently went to a sports store in a high-end mall there.

She navigated through hangers filled with backpacks and hiking clothes, preparing herself for her first trip ever to Sedona.

“There’s a lot of people that I’ve heard, friends of mine or people that I know, that they don’t want to go to the United States now because of all these politics of Trump against Mexicans and building a wall.” — Estrella Jiménez, Mexican traveler

A Chicagoan she met through a dating app invited her.

“He’s very adventurous, so he loves to hike and do those type of adventurous vacations,” Jiménez explained.

She’s excited for the date, but also the landscapes, the energy… and the high temperatures of Arizona.

“I’m a beach babe, I love hot weather,” said the businesswoman and lawyer.

Jiménez said she travels because life is about experiences, but knows a lot of people who don’t want to go to the U.S., either because of the current dollar pricing, or politics.

“There’s a lot of people that I’ve heard, friends of mine or people that I know, that they don’t want to go to the United States now because of all these politics of Trump against Mexicans and building a wall,” she explained.

But Arizona wants to keep the flow of Mexican travelers coming, its main source of foreign visitors. The state is working to bring more like Jiménez: adventurous tourists with a strong buying power, and not from the border, but from central Mexico.

Arizona’s Top Export Industry… And Market

Travel vlogger Daniel Tirado has a video about Arizona. It has already reached almost 100,000 views on YouTube. Social media influencers like him and specialized media have become key players for tourism campaigns in Mexico.

“So, we focus on Arizona being a welcoming destination for tourists and we focus on the marketing,” said Becky Blaine, deputy director of the Arizona Office of Tourism.

A Mexican magazine and an Arizona guide in Spanish, produced in Mexico City.
(Photo by Rodrigo Cervantes - KJZZ)

According to Blaine, the recent currency exchange rates have affected tourism, but not only in Arizona, where the visitation of Mexicans staying overnight has slightly dropped since 2014.

However, in 2016, the total number of overnight Mexican visitors to Arizona was 3.7 million. That’s two-thirds of all foreign visitors to Arizona.

“The visitation translates into $58 million of spending per day,” Blaine said.

Tourism is the number one export industry for Arizona. And the contribution brought by Mexico is significant: 84 percent of Mexican travelers visit for leisure and 75 percent for shopping.

“Mexico is our number one international market. Mexican travelers spend a lot of money,” said Scott Dunn, senior director of communications for the Arizona Office of Tourism.

Efforts in Mexico

Mauricio González leads the Arizona Tourism office in Mexico City. His company also works with other U.S. locations, like Houston and Chicago, and thinks pricing is an advantage for the state.

“I may say it’s 20 to 25 percent more affordable to go to Arizona than other destinations,” González said.

According to the business director, attracting tourists from Mexico has been a challenge since the controversy brought by State Bill 1070.

Another important problem is the lack of direct flights: there’s only one from Mexico City to Phoenix and one from Guadalajara, also to Phoenix.

Karina Grajeda and Mauricio González from the Arizona Office of Tourism in Mexico City.
(Photo by Rodrigo Cervantes - KJZZ)

“We’ve been facing different things, but we’ve been very successful on putting Arizona on the map as a premier destination for the Mexican traveler,” he said.

In other words, Arizona is for experienced tourists, those who want to go beyond places like New York, Orlando or Las Vegas.

The Arizona Tourism Office in Mexico City trains travel agents and promoters, builds strategic alliances and launches media and marketing campaigns. They even partnered with a local publication to produce a guide in Spanish.

“The name of the game right now is content,” González explained, “how to amplify what Arizona has to offer.”

And while González’s office flirts with Mexican tourists, Estrella Jiménez prepares to fall in love with the state’s nature… and maybe with her date.

“Well, I don’t know if it’s love… yet,” Jiménez said while laughing. “Let’s take it each step at a time!”

Rodrigo Cervantes is KJZZ’s bureau chief in Mexico City, where he was born and raised. He has served as opinion writer, contributor and commentator for several media outlets and organizations in Mexico and the United States, including CNN, Georgia Public Broadcasting and Univisión. Cervantes previously worked as the business editor and editorial coordinator for El Norte, the leading newspaper in Monterrey and a publication of Grupo Reforma, Mexico’s premier news group. In Mexico City, Cervantes served in Reforma as a reporter, special correspondent, editor and special sections coordinator. Cervantes also held the editor position at MundoHispánico, a division of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Georgia’s oldest and largest Latino newspaper. He also participated as one of the first members of the Diversity Advisory Group for Cox Media. In 2012, Cervantes was appointed as fellow for the Leadership Program of The New York Times/Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard, as well as for the "Líderes Digitales" program from the International Center for Journalists. In 2010, he was awarded with the Poynter-McCormick Leadership Fellowship. Cervantes graduated with honors in communication sciences and journalism from the Instituto Tecnológico de Monterrey (ITESM), Mexico City Campus. Later, he was granted the Fundación Carolina Scholarship from the Spanish government to obtain an MBA degree at San Pablo-CEU School of Business (Madrid). Other awards include: the Power 30 Under 30 Award for Professional and Community Excellence in Atlanta, the Outstanding Alumni Medal from ITESM, and several José Martí Awards for Journalism Excellence from the National Association of Hispanic Publications (NAHP). Cervantes enjoys music, books, travel, friendship, good mezcal and the occasional company of his guitar.