Tourists stay away from border townsPosted: Updated:
This is the peak season for sunny border towns. It's the time of year when "snow birds" from other parts of the country flock to the southwest to spend their winters and money. But if the popular Nogales is any indication -- drug violence is killing off tourism. And an updated U.S. State Department travel alert for Mexico is sure to make people think twice about crossing the border.
"This is our favorite border town, Nogales," Shelley Cook said as she paid for a clay sculpture of an intertwined sun and moon. "Everybody is so friendly. We know most all the venders." Many of those venders are struggling to survive. They told me sales are down by 75% thanks to the high profile shootouts in the city last fall.
In October police and drug traffickers had a running gun battle in Nogales that lasted several hours. At one point the gunmen threw grenades out of their vehicle during a police chase.
Likewise a shootout in Reynosa this week is likely to scare away winter Texans who buy prescription drugs, eye glasses and visit dentists. The impact may affect other Mexican border towns in the Rio Grande Valley that depend on tourists.
It's been months since the the Nogales firefight but sporadic crime stories in the media keep cropping up. And the news has spread. Kitty Coleman heard about the violence in Nogales in her home state Washington. "That it was a little dangerous for a while. We thought about it. We heard it was getting better so. Here we are," explained Coleman who was visiting with her husband David.
A friend who lives in Ariizona, Sharlene Reams, was playing tour guide. Reams used to make regular day trips across the border. "We come to see the dentist. Yeah it's kind of made us thing twice at least for a while there about coming down," she said while viewing a colorful zarape.
The vendor showing off the traditional blanket Francisco de los Reyes implored, "The economy is very bad we need your money." The shop he works for is strategically located on a corner near the international crossing. "People I think they're kind of afraid to go far away, he explained. That helps his store a little. Even so, sales are down by half.
The ripple effect can be felt in Nogales Arizona too where the owner of the Best Western Siesta Hotel, Manu Naik blames "Crime more than the economy" for a slump. His hotel is usually filled to capacity this time of year. Many guests are loyal customers from other parts of Sonora, Mexico on their way to shop in Tucson or Phoenix malls. But they too are shying away from the border these days. Naik worries about filling a second hotel now under construction.
In Nogales Mexico, merchants offer deep discounts to lure Americans across. Several stores closed after a dismal Christmas shopping season. And it's not just stores that are struggling.The elegant "La Roca" restaurant, built into a rocky cave, is a favorite spot for Americans/ The manager told me the place was reprinting the menus to reflect new prices. The restaurant slashed prices by 30% on most items.
The day I visited the there was only one table with two people taking time to enjoy a leisurely lunch. Most people visiting Mexican border towns these days are reluctant to linger.