A 390-foot pedestrian bridge originating south of the U.S. border in Tijuana has increased international attendance at San Diego meetings substantially, despite President Donald Trump’s declaration of a National Emergency, local experts report. In fact, since Cross Border Xpress (CBX) opened in 2015, connecting Tijuana International Airport (TIJ) to a terminal in Otay Mesa, at the southern tip of San Diego, the number of international visitors attending events in the city has grown as much as 35 percent, according to Joe Terzi, president and CEO of San Diego Tourism Authority.
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That streamlining of entry through the world’s first geographically binational airport for visitors from North America, Europe and Asia has been an important component in the growth of the sector—and made planning international meetings easier and cheaper for many. “We are a significant meeting destination with a large international attendance,” Terzi said. “Our main international traffic is to and from Mexico, Canada, Germany, as well as Great Britain and China—which is a very promising market.” Two airline companies—Aeromexico and Hainan Airlines— fly directly to Shanghai from Tijuana already. In addition to that, the tax on plane tickets to fly in or out of Tijuana International Airport are about 30-40 percent cheaper than Los Angeles International Airport, for instance, as travelers don’t pay International departure taxes.
In a media environment rich with talk of building walls on the border between the United States and Mexico, here are some reasons a bridge has been the solution for growing business and plans for the future.
The Fast Route
One of the CBX’s advantages is that it helps groups skip unexpected delays in a congested border crossing. And it is affordable. A crossing ticket is $16—$30 roundtrip. “Before 2016, you had to wait in line for two hours to go through San Ysidro, which is one of the busiest border checkpoints in the world. Now, according to 85 percent of the passengers, it takes no more than 20 minutes to walk to San Diego Airport, and all the same security procedures apply,” said Luis Palacios, CCO of CBX.
So far, the national emergency over border security hasn’t affected CBX traffic according to local experts. “Groups and individuals that are visiting for pleasure or work were concerned about the closing of the CBX. However, the national alarm didn’t have an impact on the flow of the traffic. Right now, people are using the facility even more to avoid the challenge they might encounter if they come across the border and follow the normal process,” Terzi said.
Since opening, the pedestrian bridge has flourished. According to a CBX study, in 2016 1.3 million passengers used the service. That number increased to 1.9 million in 2017, 2.3 million in 2018 and CBX is expecting 2.6 million people in 2019.
“We have a joint economy and we look at San Diego, Tijuana area and Baja California as one region. We work in a very dynamic environment and, despite what is happening outside, we are working together to improve security, traffic and services to people,” Terzi explained.
In 2018 the Air Transport World Airline Industry Achievement Awards, an annual prize to recognize excellence in the air transportation industry, honored the facility with the Passenger Experience Achievement. And it is only getting better. In the last three years, Tijuana International Airport invested $60 million in remodeling the building.
“The money has been used to renovate the terminals, the common area and the commercial zone, including the opening of a series of restaurants—both American and Mexican—and the new drop off area dedicated to CBX passengers,” Palacios said.
As part of this restyling, in the next five years, a number of new luxury hotels—the brands have not yet been announced—will be added to the CBX terminal to accommodate International groups on their way to San Diego events.