Are Mexicans still spending millions of dollars a day in Arizona? We’ll soon find out

Opinion: Arizona leaves money on the table when it comes to tourism from Mexico – we just don’t know how much. A new study will fix that.

Linda Valdez

The Republic |

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There’s gold along Arizona’s southern border and it should be more aggressively mined to benefit you and your family.

But you don’t hear much about it.

What you hear is the bad stuff about Arizona’s border with Mexico. (And, yes, there are problems.)

But let’s face it: The average Arizonan has little to gain from the relentlessly negative political hyperbole about the border.

Mexican shoppers help you

On the other hand, you and your family have a great deal to gain from increasing the number of legal Mexican shoppers to our state.

That’s the border story you don’t hear. But should.

Gov. Doug Ducey – who has done his share to feed the Trump administration’s big, bad border frenzy – is going to help tell that story by updating a 2008 study into how much Mexican shoppers spend in our state.

There’s gold in that spending.

How many millions? We don’t know

How much? We don’t know.

We do know the contribution of Mexican shoppers to our economy was significant a decade ago.

The 2008 report done by the University of Arizona’s Eller College of Management found Mexican visitors spent more than $7.3 million a day in Arizona stores, restaurants, hotels and other businesses.

That money supports businesses and jobs, as well as producing sales tax to help fund basic state and local services – like your child’s school.

It supports schools and local services

The 2008 study found legal Mexican visitors represented “a staggering 48.62 percent of the total taxable sales in Santa Cruz County.”

Keep in mind: The 24 million visa-holding Mexican travelers who came here that year far exceeded the number of people who crossed the border illegally in any year.

You didn’t hear much about those legal border crossers, which is a real shame.

Arizona didn’t do much to treat them like valued customers, which is a lost opportunity.

Dissing our customers wasn’t smart

In 2010 – after years of ugly rhetoric about the dangers of the border – GOP Gov. Jan Brewer signed a xenophobic anti-immigrant law that resulted in boycotts, lost conventions and bad press.

It also inspired deep resentment in Mexico.

Despite it all, Mexicans continue to visit

recent study for the Office of Tourism found that in 2017, tourists who stayed overnight in our state spent $22.7 billion in Arizona. Two-thirds of the foreign tourists were from Mexico, according to reporting by The Republic’s Russ Wiles.

We don’t know how many more Mexicans would have come if we’d been nicer. We do know that neighboring border states – and Nevada – were courting Mexican travelers while we were making rude gestures.

A new study is coming – at last

What’s more, this broad study of tourism did not capture day trippers from Mexico or people who stayed in private homes, so it most likely under-represents the contribution of Mexicans to Arizona’s tourism economy.

We need an update of the 2008 study for that – and at long last, Ducey’s Office of Tourism is getting ready to do it.

Scott Dunn, director of communications at the tourism office, says a request for proposals for a new Mexico visitor study should go out in September.

 “The more data we have, the better we can grow the Mexican market . . . our largest source of international travelers,” says Dunn.

Here’s what the study needs to do

He says it will be a “comprehensive study of the Mexican market,” but adds that it is too early in the process to say exactly what it will cover.

There are a few important things to consider when when designing a new study.

  • A new study of Mexican tourism has to look at day trippers who shop in border cities. The recent, broader tourism study looked only those who stayed overnight.
  • The study should also build on information from a 2015 report for the Maricopa Association of Governments that said expanding the border crossing zone statewide could to increase the overall number of Mexican tourists and “generate up to $181 million in additional estimated spending and 2,179 additional jobs … ” Currently, visa-holders who have passed all legal requirements to travel in the United States still need a secondary permit to travel more than 75 miles into Arizona – effectively limiting their shopping to Tucson.

Give Gov. Ducey some credit

Unlike Brewer, Ducey has worked the Mexican market to Arizona’s advantage.

Under his administration, Arizona opened a trade office in Mexico City, assigned liaisons to encourage trade and worked with Mexican elected officials to build relationships. He even touted Mexico as Arizona’s top trading partner.

That trade relationship accounts for $2.4 billion a month in commodity flows to Mexico through Arizona’s ports of entry, according to July Arizona-Mexico Economic Indicators prepared by Eller. But that’s down from $2.9 billion in March 2017.

We still need a cheerleader

Our economic relationship with Mexico requires attention – just like any other relationship. Arizonans need to understand that.

Yet Arizonans continue to hear more about the problems at the border than about the great economic benefit and opportunity the Mexican border represents.

That needs to change.

The overdue update to a decade-old study of Mexican shoppers is a good sign.

But we also need to hear more from our elected officials about the gold mine on our southern border.

Reach Valdez at