Wednesday, August 28, 2013

What keeps you from going to Mexico?

What keeps you from going to Mexico?
By Sandra Dibble Aug. 22, 2013

The participation of U.S. bicyclists in the Rosarito to Ensenada ride is growing again after plummeting in 2008 and 2009. / photo by David Maung

A new survey of San Diego County residents showed that more than half had not crossed into Mexico for at least a year - and that one-fifth had never entered the country at all.

The main reason cited: concerns about safety south of the border.

SurveyUSA, a New Jersey-based polling company, selected 750 adult respondents at random and interviewed them by telephone on Tuesday and Wednesday. U-T San Diego and KGTV-Channel 10 commissioned the survey at the prompting of the U-T's director of marketing research, Joseph Gordon.

This poll comes at a time when Baja California authorities have been saying that the state's tourism indices are up and violent crime has dropped significantly since the 2008-2010 peak of crime related to drug trafficking. Advocates of a unified San Diego-Tijuana region are touting Baja California's growing culinary offerings and rich cultural scene as growing attractions for visitors.

Are you reluctant to visit Mexico?
Yes 81% (3504)
No 19% (804)
4308 total votes.

Many claim congestion at border crossings - and not the safety issue - is what keeps them away.

"It will take time to change perception," said José M. Larroque, a Tijuana attorney who is co-chair of the Smart Border Coalition, a binational group that lobbies for more efficient crossings. "I also think that the ability to cross quickly will lead to more people coming to Tijuana, and going back with a testimony that they felt safe and were safe."

Survey respondents who have gone to Mexico said they did so to shop (29 percent) and vacation (26 percent). They cross by car (51 percent), on foot (28 percent) or both (15 percent).

The 20 percent of respondents who had never traveled to Mexico and the 76 percent of border-crossers who said they are doing so less often identified a range of reasons for not making the trip.

These included lack of proper documents to return to the United States and the hassle of interacting with U.S. Customs and Border Protection inspectors. Of the 458 respondents who said they have been crossing less often, 17 percent cited long lines to re-enter the United States.

Worries about safety were by far the greatest deterrent, both for people who reported crossing less frequently and those who had never done so, the survey showed.

Among respondents who had never crossed, 59 percent mentioned safety concerns, with their No. 1 issue being fear of gangs (29 percent), followed by corrupt officials (23 percent) and drugs (20 percent).

Of the people who said they were going to Mexico less often, 54 percent listed safety as their main concern, with fear of gangs cited as the main reason (29 percent), trailed closely by corrupt officials (28 percent) and drugs (18 percent).

Baja California tourism authorities, who have commissioned similar surveys of their own, did not respond to a request for comment. But Gary Foster, who organizes the twice-yearly Rosarito-Ensenada Bicycle Ride, called the new poll "egregiously misleading" and "clearly written to lead respondents to narrowly focus on safety concerns and ... thus totally invalid as an indicator of Baja tourism."

Foster wrote in an email that his cycling events, which came close to closing in 2008 due to a big drop in U.S. visitors, "has completely rebounded since 2008. A large and growing percentage of participants are U.S. citizens, and our total numbers are up."

Richard Kiy, president of the National City-based International Community Foundation, which funds numerous projects in Baja California, found the data "pretty consistent with our past surveys." Kiy said heightened safety concerns "have contributed to many people deciding to stop going to Mexico. ... We've seen a similar drop among some individuals that were once active donors in Tijuana but are now no longer giving as their visitations across the border have stopped."

Kenn Morris, president of the Crossborder Group, a market research firm that frequently conducts surveys at the San Ysidro and Otay Mesa crossings, said the new poll does not take into account the sizable numbers of residents from other parts of Southern California who visit Baja California. He said his research has shown that "visitors from San Diego tend to have higher concerns about security than visitors from Los Angeles and Orange counties."

Because the survey was conducted in English, Morris said, primarily Spanish-speaking residents would have been overlooked. He said his findings from 2010 to 2012 also "have shown that perceptions of security concerns and violence by U.S.-residing border crossers have been improving."

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