Amid Border Chaos, Mexico Resort Town Asks: Where Have All The American Tourists Gone?

A town hurting for American tourists, and blaming the migrant caravan...

Rosarito Beach is a resort town on the coast of Mexico’s Baja California peninsula. It is known as a nightlife destination for young Americans partying at dance clubs, was desolate. While winter is not generally the party season, residents and business owners warn economic activity has collapsed, reported The New York Times. 

“This is not normal, it’s all empty!” said Luis Pacheco, a waiter at Papas and Beer, a popular beachside bar.

“This used to be full of people,” he said, pointing at the rows of colorful wooden chairs on the sand, devoid of sunbathers.

Businesses who depend on Americans for their livelihood blame the collapse in tourism on the recent turmoil at the border in the neighboring city of Tijuana, where a migrant caravan with thousands of people from Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and El Salvador arrived in mid-November.

“It has been isolated incidents that have created a distorted, negative image of the border, and we are all suffering from it,” said Ricardo Argiles, the chief executive of the company that operates the Rosarito Beach Hotel, which is a frequent spot for Hollywood elites.

Millennials consider the town an exciting, more cultured alternative to Tijuana, and until recently, young Californians who flooded the beaches on weekends and holidays, enticed by nightlife, seafood, and avocados, have vanished.

Many residents share Argiles' view that negative news reports of the caravan situation at the border have deterred millennial tourists.

The incident that frightened many Southern Californians, Argiles said, was the complete shutdown of the San Ysidro Port of Entry last November when migrants attacked the border crossing.

Since then, the Rosarito Beach Hotel has experienced a 60% drop in room occupancy, Argiles said, and the property had its worst December in several decades.

There were a few tourists who spoke with the The New York Times agreed with Argiles’s assessment of why Americans are staying away.

John Aslanyan, a pharmacist from San Diego and a regular to Rosarito, said he could not convince his fiancée to accompany him on the stay.

She was terrified, he said, that there would be a repeat of November’s border closing, a worry shared by many Californians, he added.

“This is the first time I am seeing this beach this empty,” said Aslanyan, the lone diner at a restaurant on Rosarito’s oceanfront.

Moises Espitia, an analyst with the Metropolitan Center of Economic and Business Information, a research group situated in the area, said the economic pain caused by the border’s shutdown in November severely damaged the services and tourism sector.

On the day of the shutdown, almost 60,000 restaurants and hotels in the Tijuana and Rosarito Beaches metropolitan area suffered a collective loss of $6.7 million, Espitia estimated.

“Events like the migrant caravan, without proper response or preventive measures, can have an economic impact in the daily lives of people in this area,” he said.

The migrant caravans have usually been welcomed in Mexico. But as soon as tourism collapsed in the Baja California region, some residents have begun criticizing the migrant caravan for the loss of business.

“They came here with an arrogant attitude, demanding things, and abused the help we offered them, arguing they are fleeing violence or poverty, but we all are poor!” said Jorge Medina, a manager of the Bombay Beach nightclub in Rosarito.

He said business activity had collapsed in the last two months.

“Life is not easy for us either,” Medina added.

“We have our own set of problems, including violence, and it is unfair that our lives are disrupted because of them.”

Medina agreed with the harsher measures taken by the US government to deter migrants, including deploying the Army and the use of tear gas at the border, and President Trump’s goal to build a border wall.

Argiles, along with other business owners, is formulating a new social media campaign that shows Rosarito is ready for business, again.

“We have to recover from this,” he said.

However, with the Trump administration’s increasingly hostile anti-immigration policies, it seems that Rosarito Beach and other resort towns in Mexico’s Baja California peninsula could experience longer-term economic losses, if not collapse.