U.S. expats want tourists to return to Baja California

Published 21 March 12 11:52 AM
ENSENADA In their campaign to bring back U.S. visitors, Baja California authorities are increasingly looking to a new source of support: testimonials from members of the state’s U.S. expatriate community.

Tillie Foster, 79, is a U.S. expatriate who lives in Ensenada and is queen of her local Red Hat chapter. In the background are dancers from a local high school who served as entertainment for the first Baja International Community Mega Mixer. / Photo by Sandra Dibble * U-T

Through family connections, business contacts, social media, radio programs, promotional videos — any means that are at hand — residents such as Tillie Foster have been gladly stepping up to support their adopted home.

“Baja’s been good to me. I’ve made so many friends here,” said Foster, 79, a member of the Baja Image Committee who moved to Ensenada from Orange County 36 years ago. “I hate to see what’s been happening over the past five or six years.”

Foster was one of the promoters of the first Baja International Community Mega Mixer, held last Thursday at the historic Hotel Riviera del Pacífico, a civic and cultural center in downtown Ensenada. The gathering drew an estimated 300 expats from different parts of Baja California, many of them eager to share their viewpoint about life south of the border.

“It’s more relaxed. We’re done with snow, we’re done with cold,” said Gary Pliley, a 64-year-old retiree from Utah.

“You make friends here that you could call at two in the morning if you needed help,” said Carol Main, 69, who moved to Baja California from San Diego.

Also at the Thursday event was Vivian Scott, a marketing professor from Nevada. She was instrumental in persuading Las Vegas-based radio host Les Kincaid to broadcast his one-hour program, “Wines du Jour,” from an Ensenada hotel later that day.

“We have an investment in Baja,” said Scott, who with her husband owns a condo in San Felipe. “The farther you get from Mexico, the more entrenched the negativity.”

Ensenada, like tourist destinations statewide, has been struggling to bring back U.S. tourism. Hotels, restaurants and other businesses across Baja California have been working to recover from the sharp decline of American visitors since 2006, the result of a combination of factors, including the U.S. economic downturn, clogged border crossings, a new U.S. passport requirement and fears of crime in Mexico.

“The strongest testimony, the best, is from people who live here in our state,” Ensenada Mayor Enrique Pelayo, said as he addressed the Riviera gathering.

North of Ensenada, Rosarito Beach saw roughly a 70 percent drop in U.S. visitors from 2005 to 2010, said Hugo Torres, owner of the hotel and the city’s former mayor. For the first time in years, the downward trend was reversed, he said, as his hotel registered a 17 percent increase in Americans in 2011 over 2010.

Torres, who is president of the Baja Image Committee, has joined state tourism authorities in seeking out the support of members of the expatriate community, made up of an estimated 25,000 full- and part-time residents.

Their endorsements “are one more way of projecting an image that things are right, conditions are right for people to come down,” said Juan Tintos, Baja California’s Tourism Secretary.

Last year, Tintos’ office commissioned a 10-minute promotional video titled, “What is Baja?” The video draws heavily on interviews with U.S. visitors, residents and promoters such as Gary Foster, who runs the twice-yearly Rosarito-to-Ensenada bike ride.

“Turn off the TV and talk to someone who’s been there,” said Foster, whose event has suffered from the drop in U.S. visitors. “The tourists that travel to Baja are the best ambassadors Baja has because they know the real story.”

sandra.dibble@utsandiego.com • (619) 293-1716 • Twitter @sandradibble



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