Mexico wants us to notice!!!! The Mexican state just south of the border is spending $1.5 million this year to attract tourists from Arizona, compared with $100,000 in years past.
A contingent of Sonora government officials came to Phoenix last week to talk about the campaign with the Arizona Office of Tourism and local media advertisement. In addition to beefing up marketing, Sonora officials said a 400-mile coastal highway is being built between now and 2009, making it easier for visitors to drive from one seaside town to the next.
In December, much of Sonora stopped requiring car permits, which visitors complained were costly, time-consuming and difficult to get.
“We’re trying to make it easier to come from Arizona,” said Epifanio Salido Pavlovich, coordinator general of the Sonora Office of Tourism.
“We are so close. We are neighbors. We are trying to make an investment in marketing.”
Until now, Sonora spent nearly all of its marketing budget on California and countries overseas. But a study showed that 67 percent of its visitors were from Arizona, prompting a dramatic shift in strategy.
“Now we know Arizona is our priority,” Pavlovich said.
The goal is to duplicate the success of Puerto Peñasco, also known as Rocky Point, in other areas of Sonora.
The popular spring break destination has become a magnet for tourists and developers; nine condominium projects are in the works.
Other cities in Sonora want a piece of that economic vitality.
“Peñasco is in the eyes of everyone,” Pavlovich said.
“We’re increasing investment in the tourism sector very quickly. What is happening in Peñasco, we wanted to bring it along the coast of Sonora.”
Ing. Raúl Acedo Elías, subdirector of the Sonora Office of Tourism, pointed out that Sonora is making another shift. Instead of promoting only its sand and surf, the state is trying to attract people to rural and colonial areas.
It’s participating with Arizona in National Geographic’s geotourism map project. Next year, the publisher will release a map that highlights the hidden cultural treasures of the Sonora Desert Region, all nominated by locals.
Promoting the diversity of the region instead of one beach town ultimately will draw more visitors, Elías said.
Early indications are that the new strategy is working.
Hotel occupancy in Sonora is up 25 percent this year, and overall visitation is up 20 percent, Pavlovich said.
Margie Emmermann, director of the Arizona Office of Tourism, met with Sonora officials last week, as she does twice a year.
She said that extending the permit-free zone for cars is a major step toward making travel easier. Studying tourists more closely is helping all communities, including Sonora, understand how to reach their customers.
“They will be more successful in being able to get right to their niche and better educate people about the ease of travel and beauty of Sonora,” she said.