Groups promote border as tourist destination for medical and migrant needs

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El Paso Chamber backs effort to tap new markets, promote two-country visits

EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) — The word “tourism” often evokes images of beaches, shopping at local markets and partying. But each year, hundreds of thousands come to the U.S.-Mexico border on business to seek medical care or take care of immigration paperwork.

That’s why a group of entrepreneurs in El Paso is trying to get merchants and service providers in six states in Mexico and four in the United States to learn to promote the border as a diverse tourism destination.

“We have to spread the word. (The border) is a fantastic tourist destination for shopping, but we are also becoming a very important medical providers (destination) known by people from Philadelphia to Little Rock,” said Alberto M. Correa, president of the Border Tourism Cluster.

The group is sponsoring the Binational Tourism Connection convention Feb. 19-21 in Chihuahua, Mexico, and plans to do a follow-up gathering next year in El Paso.

Doctors’ and dentists’ offices already line some of the principal avenues in Juarez, Mexico, where families from El Paso and Southern New Mexico who lack insurance or would rather not deal with high deductibles take care of their medical needs. The same holds true for towns across the border from California, Arizona and some in New Mexico.

U.S. residents visit Mexican border cities to take advantage of less expensive medical services. (photo by Julian Resendiz/Border Report)

The goal of the Cluster and chambers of commerce along the border is to get those visitors to stay a little longer and patronize restaurants, shops, museums and other landmarks.

Correa said medical tourism isn’t just Americans taking advantage of inexpensive medical care. He said Mexican middle-class families are traveling from the interior of Mexico to El Paso for surgery and specialized medical procedures. Robotic and non-invasive surgeries offered at El Paso hospitals are becoming particularly popular in Mexico, he said.

“It’s the technology, the quality of service and the price. El Paso is a lot less expensive than Houston or San Antonio,” he said.

Another untapped audience is migration tourism. Each year, about 400,000 people from all over Mexico — and some who reside in the United States — converge at the American consulate in Juarez to get visas or documents needed for immigraton status adjustments.

“It’s not just in and out. They’re here for two to three days and a lot of times they don’t leave the hotels. So one of the things that we want to do is to get them to experience the cities while their documents are processed,” said Veronica Castro, director of tourism development at the El Paso Chamber. “We want to make sure we are catering to them as well and showcasing what we have while they are in town conducting business.”

Castro and Correa are in favor of jointly promoting attractions and services on both sides of the border.

In this photo taken Nov. 9, 2011, a full moon rises over the Copper Canyon in Divisadero, Mexico. Copper Canyon is a series of awe-inspiring gorges bigger than the Grand Canyon. (AP Photo/Lisa J. Adams)

Travel agencies in Arizona and Chihuahua, for instance, could promote visits to the “Two Canyons,” the Grand Canyon in Arizona and the much larger and greener Copper Canyon in Chihuahua.

“We work very close with this group (the Cluster) because it will promote the region as one and we’re both going to come out as winners. A lot of people from the East Coast come to see the Copper Canyon. They’re going to fly in to El Paso, they’re going to stay in our hotels for one night before continuing to Chihuahua,” Castro said.

For more information on the convention or on border tourism, visit Destination El Paso.

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