Local, state, and international tourism organizations are encouraging more travelers to try a “2 Nation Vacation” along the southern border, and have been working together to develop a bi-national identity for the cross-border travel industry.
Their problem -- and local Senator Ben Hueso agrees – is the political rhetoric coming from the Oval Office that they say is dividing the U.S. and Mexico.
“What leaders say is very important,” said Senator Hueso, Chairman of Select Committee on California-Mexico Cooperation, who is leading the informational hearing on cross-border tourism in National City at the MLK Center. “It influences people’s actions, and we have seen this since this President took office. Hate crimes increased in our county, so we need to counter that message. We need to send a message of hope, of understanding, a message of tolerance. Nobody wants violence in our communities. This has been happening now since this president has been in office. This is now the third year of just this constant, hateful rhetoric that does our nation no good. It doesn’t build confidence in our future, it doesn’t bring people together. We need to find ways to understand each other.”
At the hearing, representatives of San Diego Tourism, Visit California, the California Travel Association, San Diego County Economic Development Center, Cross Border Xpress, the State of Baja, Mexico, and many others addressed the issue.
Reports from Visit California showed the state has seen record-breaking growth in tourism over the last nine years. The state showed it had a $140 billion in tourism dollars in 2018, a 5-percent increase from the previous year. Baja California’s Secretary of Tourism Oscar Escobedo said Baja saw 27 million visitors in 2018, and 82 percent of them were from California. He said their efforts to increase bi-national vacations is working. People are crossing the border to experience Baja California’s experiences.
They’re working together across the border to create vacation experiences in Southern California and Mexico have more plans ahead, including a pitch from the President and CEO Cindy Gompper Graves with South County Economic Development Center. She asked local senators and the public to think about adding a water taxi with a port behind the San Diego Convention Center that would taxi people between the Convention Center, the Chula Vista Bayfront and Baja California.
Last week Visit California announced it launched a new California Welcome Center at the Cross Border Xpress that provides a concierge for travellers from Mexico to California.
“It’s possible to have two regions that prosper together,” Senator Hueso said.
California Travel Association also said it surveyed its members in July, asking what were the issues that concerned them about tourism growth and how high would you rank them on a scale of one to five, five being the most problematic.
Here are the results:
- National travel polices: 4.35 out of 5.
- California’s image to the rest of the country 4.62 out of 5.
- California’s image to the rest of the world: 4.76 out of 5.
They said those three problems were ranked higher than their normal “hot-button” issues, like homelessness and sustainability, which ranked a 4.03 and 4.16 respectively.
“It speaks to the awareness of the state’s travel and tourism industry that we must be proactive in encouraging visitors to come to our destinations,” said Barbara Newton, President and CEO of California Travel Association.
One person in the public comment portion did express her concerns for safety with cross border travel. Senator Hueso recognized her concerns but had to wrap up their meeting.