Bordering neighbors impact local economy

Felipe Garcia, executive vice president for Visit Tucson. (Sophie Manley/Arizona Sonora News)

Mexican visitors influence Tucson’s economy.

Year round, shoppers come from Sonora, Mexico, to the United States to seek deals and spend money. On average, they spend about $1 billion in Tucson alone, which has a big impact on the local economy.

About 22 million Mexico visitors come to Arizona each year with the main purpose to shop, studies show. The number spikes around holidays, such as Black Friday after Thanksgiving and Easter, and back-to-school season, said Felipe Garcia, executive vice president for Visit Tucson.

When those holidays hit, parking lots are filled with Sonora license plates, and shoppers spend on average $1,000-$5,000.

“The Mexican shopper is particularly a big spender here in our community,”  said Juan Padres, economic development and international trade specialist for the City of Tucson.

“We’re the largest metro city closest to the Arizona-Sonora border, so we are the closest shopping destination for cities like Hermosillo, which has a population of almost a million,” he added.

These shoppers come up with their whole family and usually make it a day trip, sometimes visiting friends and relatives in southern Arizona.

Not all shoppers come for luxury goods, said Padres. Many frequent Ross, TJ Maxx, Target, Walmart, J.C. Penney, as well as outlets.

The most recent report on the topic, done by Eller College of Management in 2007, said the most popular malls are Park Place and Tucson Mall, as well as Arizona Mills Mall in Tempe. Other than malls, casinos and zoos are most visited.

Visitors choose the Tucson area to shop because it is cheaper and the sales tax is much lower, and stores offer more variety, Padres said.

Some also come for luxury goods such as Louis Vuitton, Tiffany’s, Michael Kors, and Coach, with many going to La Encantada, an upscale outdoor shopping center in the Catalina Foothills.

Laura Crossman, corporate marketing manager for La Encantada, said Mexican visitors make up about 25 percent of their shopping base.

Visit Tucson, along with shopping malls, are using techniques to advertise and accommodate the visitors. Visit Tucson has advertisements for a variety of retail options that are not offered in Mexico, as well as hotels and deals.

At La Encantada, Crossman said, “We don’t do traditional advertising, but we do offer visitor savings guides, and we also offer them in Spanish, and Vamos a la Tucson and Sonora as well as through Visit Tucson,. We also have an online website that people can go to and download our shopping guide.”

Garcia said visitors are paying the area’s sales tax, which benefits schools, police stations, fire fighters, parks and other city expenses.

“In Arizona, based on our models for cities, most of the cities, their sales tax is vital to operation. Their main sources of revenue is sales tax,” Garcia said. “It is very important for economy that we maintain the visitation until we have those nationals coming here to spend money.”

Tourism and city government groups promote the benefits of having shoppers from Mexico.

“This is an extremely valuable resource for our community,” Padres said. “The Mexican shoppers are very valued. It really does drive our retail economy here in Tucson. I can’t over emphasize how important they are for our economy.”

Sophie Manley is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact her at

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