Baja California, Mexico’s most northern state and the only one with borders with Arizona and California, has been a popular destination for western Americans who want to drive. Although the U.S./Mexico land border was closed to all but essential travel in the aftermath of the pandemic, it allowed the destination to reposition itself for growth.

This year, the state tourism department replaced the Baja Norte branding it used with the more logical Baja California moniker. It reflects the state’s actual name. Mario Escobedo Carignan is the secretary of tourism and sustainable development for Baja California. We spoke to him about the new strategy.

Why did you feel the need to rebrand the destination?

We wanted to create a brand that reflects our history, and at the same time embraces our diverse attractions, activities and unique experiences. Not only does the rebrand allow us to finally move back to our original name and roots — it was changed to Baja Norte in 1974 to distinguish it from the southern state of Baja California Sur — the new branding also incorporates icons featuring quintessential elements that can be found throughout the region, including ocean, valley, woods, desert and sea. Each of the seven tourist destinations throughout Baja also have their own unique logos that highlight activities they are known for — for example, grape icons for Ensenada, which is home to the Valle de Guadalupe wine region, and waves for Rosarito, a popular surfing destination.

How would you describe Baja California’s pandemic recovery?

[The year] 2019 was a spectacular year for Baja California’s travel industry, with 27.9 million visitors and $119 billion of annual visitor spending. The economic downturn in the state’s hospitality sector was severe after the pandemic. As more people become vaccinated and COVID-19 numbers go down, we are optimistic that the industry’s outlook has started to change, and recovery is on the horizon. It has been crucial to re-establish trust in travel. Over the past year, both government agencies as well as tourism and hospitality industry supply chain have pledged to work together on reactivating tourism and making it a priority.

As more people become vaccinated and COVID-19 numbers go down, we are optimistic that the industry’s outlook has started to change, and recovery is on the horizon.

How has the closing of land borders affected Baja California’s ability to attract travelers?

The land borders were closed to nonessential travelers in March 2020 [and travel remains limited]. Essential travel is allowed across the border. We continue to see many people traveling for education, business and medical purposes. We also have a medical lane on the border for medical tourists. This is to make it easier.

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Tijuana is located just across the border from the U.S. in Baja California.

Credit: 2021 Baja California

Border closures do not affect air travel to and from the two countries, so we have been seeing more leisure travelers visit places in Mexico that require a flight. Cross Border Xpress (CBX ) and other facilities like the Tijuana International airport have made it safer for travelers to travel.

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While we have not been able to actively promote leisure travel due to the border closures, we are encouraging people to continue dreaming of Baja California and planning for future trips. This has allowed us to take a step back and listen to what travelers want. The Road Awaits is a digital campaign we created to keep us in the know for future travel. It also serves as an inspiration message, highlighting brighter days and opportunities to visit the places and people we love. We also launched the “Drive South” website in May. It features detailed itineraries, recommendations for activities, and safety tips to help travelers plan future trips across the border.

We’ve used this time to pause and listen to what travelers are looking for.

What kinds of travelers are most likely to enjoy a vacation in Baja California?

The Baja California Visitor Profile Study is conducted every other year to track the characteristics of the market and travelers. Based on those findings, we know that 58% of visitors are international travelers, with 84% coming from California. According to the study, the overwhelming majority of visitors visit the region for its growing gastronomy scene which includes craft beer and wine. Travelers who are passionate about food and sport, such as surfing, off-road racing, and other activities, will also be interested in the region. Baja California is a great place to spend a vacation.

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Anything else that’s trending with visitors to Baja California?

Due to the pandemic, visitors are changing their preferences when visiting our state. Many are choosing to visit smaller cities and seek out more adventure tourism or nature tourism instead. Baja is a wonderful place to enjoy outdoor dining, camping and hiking, making it an ideal destination for exploring the outdoors safely. Tourists are also increasing in popular beach areas like San Quintin and San Felipe.

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Baja California