Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Baja beaches packed for Holy Week

Written by
Sandra Dibble
8:21 p.m., April 9, 2012
Updated 12:42 p.m. , April 11, 2012

TIJUANA — Baja California’s tourism sector is celebrating its most heavily traveled Easter vacation period in five years, a welcome boost as the state gears up for the summer high season.

From Rosarito Beach to San Felipe, beach destinations were packed during the four-day Easter weekend (Thursday through Sunday), when many Mexican families traditionally hit the road. Statewide, about 338,000 people were traveling, a 13 percent increase over the same period last year, said state tourism secretary Juan Tintos.

About two-thirds were domestic tourists, many of them Baja California residents traveling to other parts of the state, Tintos said. The remaining third were from the United States, mostly from California, as many Latinos with cross-border relatives and other ties visited the region.

“We’re not at the levels we once had, but certainly are better than the past five years,” Tintos said.

The large groups of U.S. college students on spring break are a thing of the past, but Baja California’s culinary and wine offerings are among the niches drawing growing interest from domestic and international visitors.

Baja California’s tourism sector has been battered in recent years by a decline in U.S. visitors, a drop attributed to various factors, including lengthy northbound border waits, a new passport requirement, the Great Recession and reports of drug-related violence.

Tintos credited the rise in Holy Week travelers to several reasons: “It was a combination of the weather, coming out with better tourism offers, more discounts and much more presence through the media.”

Xavier Rivas, Ensenada’s director of international affairs, expressed hope for further momentum. “We feel the economy is turning around, the safety issue is not as sensitive as before. We’re really encouraged by what’s happening,” he said.

The mood in San Felipe was equally upbeat.

“I’ve been going to San Felipe for 40 years and I’ve never seen it this packed,” said Omar Dipp, director of Mexicali’s Conventions and Tourism Committee. “I think it’s nice weather, and we could be coming out of the economic crunch.”

Recent improvements to the San Felipe Highway also could be a factor, Dipp said.

Hotel occupancy rates during the four-day Easter weekend were a key indicator. In Rosarito Beach, occupancy rates rose from 69 percent in 2011 to 77 percent, according to state tourism figures. In Ensenada, they went from 86 percent to 91 percent, while San Felipe’s increased from 97 percent to 100 percent and San Quintín’s rose from 65 percent to 70 percent.

Though not traditional Easter destinations, Tijuana and Mexicali also registered a rise in occupancy rates over 2011. Tijuana’s figure climbed from 34 percent to 40 percent, while Mexicali’s rose from 38 percent to 44 percent.

Tourism authorities also kept crowd counts throughout the state, with the largest numbers registered in Rosarito Beach, San Felipe and at La Bufadora south of Ensenada, with 50,000 each. By the U.S. border fence, some 15,500 people cooled off during the weekend at Playas de Tijuana, according to state figures.

In the state capital of Mexicali, attendance at the recreational center and zoo known as the Bosque de la Ciudad was 43,700, the tourism secretariat reported. Tijuana’s parks were also well attended, with 23,000 in Parque Morelos and 16,500 people in Parque de la Amistad.

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