May 16, 2008

Commerce in Tijuana Drops Dramatically

By Agustín Durán
La Opinión

TIJUANA — “How are sales?”

“They are down, but we have to tolerate it here,” said Manuel Jimenez, member of the Tlaquepaque mariachi group, as he strolled down Revolution Avenue looking for customers.

On sidewalks, most passersby are waiters, business owners and hard working laborers; bilingual businessmen attract dozens of tourists to restaurants and holes in the wall.

A few years ago there were thousands of people from the United States coming to Tijuana.

“Now, not even the flies stop on the Revo’,” said Jimenez, adding that in the 30 years that he has played the guitar on Tijuana’s most popular street, he has never seen anything similar to this. Jorge Alberto Pérez, a pharmacist, said that revenue from the sale of medicine has decreased by 90 percent since 2007. Employees have lost their jobs or have had their hours reduced, because “here, (referring to the avenue) after six in the evening there is nothing,” he said.

Francisco Acosta, a crafts salesman, said he spent a day and a half without selling anything. “I don’t know how my boss will deal with this, but as long as he keeps me on, all is well,” he said.

Andrés Méndez, coordinator of the Mexican Business and Tourism Committee (Ceturmex), which represents 45 companies and associations, said that in the month of March there was an 80 percent decrease in sales, and this has driven many businesses to close.

The tourism situation started worsening as a result of the September 11 terrorist attacks. Over the past four years, Méndez said, half of the 800 businesses in the area of Revolution Avenue and the Historic Center have closed.

This year, 45 businesses have had to close their doors, according to the official. Some of the industries that have been hit hardest are the craft shops, pharmacies, hotels, restaurants and auto repair shops. For example, last year there were 45 pharmacies in the Viva Tijuana Shopping Center and now there are only 15.

“The situation is lamentable because having so much violence impacts the city’s image. As a consequence, there is no tourism, there are no sales, and people lose income and even jobs,” Méndez explains.

Although he recognizes the violence is an important factor in the tough times Tijuana is facing, he pointed out other important trends ignored by U.S. media, which makes it look like Tijuana residents practically live in a state of siege.

“The number one factor is the economic recession on the other side (of the border). There’s no capital, so no money spills over. The second is the long wait to cross the line, which is also out of our hands, and in the hands of the Department of Homeland Security of the United States. The third is the negative image of Tijuana. They publish all of the negative and none of the positive that happens in the city,” he emphasized.

Méndez notes that the tourist zone and downtown Tijuana are the most secure areas in the whole city. There are 200 agents guarding the tourist promenade, Revolution Avenue and the Historic Center, in addition to the state and federal police.

Acording to Ceturmex, the main tourism groups, including the University of Baja California, are already putting an emergency plan into action. It will promote the attractions of the city of 1.4 million residents – the official numbers, with unofficial estimates exceeding two million.

The organizations, counting on the government to solve the security question and the propaganda to display the positive aspects of the city, expect the market to recover in three years.

“But if the government’s security programs do not work, everything we do will be for naught and the Revolution could end up a ghost town in a few years,” Méndez concludes.

Translated by Peter Micek and Suzanne Manneh

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