Arizona-Texas-Mexico border is usually busy during Holy Week. This year, it’s silent

At this time of the year, the beaches of Puerto Peñasco are usually brimming with families and vendors selling trinkets and snacks to visitors. Hotels fill to capacity, and spending at its many bars and restaurants spikes as the U.S.-Mexico border region celebrates Semana Santa, or Holy Week.

It’s the busiest time of the year for the beach city, also known as Rocky Point and located on the Sea of Cortez, about an hour’s drive south of the Arizona-Mexico border. 

Tourism officials expected 120,000 visitors from Mexico and the U.S. to descend on Puerto Peñasco — twice the number of its permanent population — during the weeklong holiday that starts Palm Sunday and ends with Easter Sunday.

Instead, the city’s long, sandy beaches are deserted, hotels sit mostly empty, and bars and restaurants are shut indefinitely.

“I closed … about March 20,” Jose Torres said. “But right now, it’s our busiest season. There’s no stopping since March 1 and usually goes on until about June. March and April are our strongest months.”

For 14 years, Torres has owned Boo Bar on the Malecón, the city’s popular pier lined with shops, restaurants and large open spaces. Nearly 90% of his sales come from tourists, he said.

Across Mexico, cities normally empty during Holy Week as residents travel to their hometowns to visit family or flock to the country’s beaches, rivers, and lakes. Along the U.S.-Mexico border, a large number of Mexicans head north for the week, spending millions of dollars at U.S. businesses. 

As COVID-19 sweeps the globe, local and federal governments have issued stay-at-home orders and restricted travel. Tourism is not considered an essential reason to travel. Those restrictions have dampened Semana Santa this year, historically one of the busiest travel periods along the border

“The closure of bridges and the other ports of entry to non-essential, non-industrial traffic means that roughly $95 million of retail sales are at risk in El Paso, Texas, alone,” said Tom Fullerton, an economist at the University of Texas at El Paso. 

During Semana Santa, an additional 100,000 cars and 100,000 pedestrians typically cross the border from Ciudad Juárez to El Paso, on top of regular traffic. Mexican shoppers leave behind an additional $8.5 million in retail sales in El Paso during the holiday period, Fullerton said. 

Source: azcentral.com

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