Package Delivery Service Aims To Keep Sonorans Connected To Tucson Amid Pandemic
On an early December morning, Maria Fernanda Badillo picked up a small cardboard box from Visit Tucson’s office in the Sonoran capital Hermosillo.
“Oh I’ve been coming to Visit Tucson for years,” she said, as she slid the package across the counter. “I always use them to make reservations in Tucson.”
Badillo often goes through the tourism nonprofit when booking a hotel for her family’s frequent trips to Tucson. Several times a year, they make the four-hour drive to stock up on shoes, toys, sporting goods and anything else that is too expensive or unavailable in Sonora.
“We go up all the time to shop, especially around the holidays. And in the summer, and that way it’s like a vacation, too,” she said. “And sometimes I order things online and drive up to pick them up. Like my husband, he’s an NFL fanatic and he ordered jerseys, but they don’t ship to Mexico.”
Since March, though, pandemic border restrictions have cut off frequent Arizona visitors like Badillo from their habitual cross-border trips.
So instead, she had this package delivered straight to Hermosillo. It’s one of thousands that's been carted across the border to Visit Tucson’s Sonoran offices in recent months as part of a new package delivery service spurred by the pandemic’s economic toll on Arizona.
“I think a lot of people don’t understand the economic impact of that visitor coming from south of the border to the U.S. And it’s huge,” said Visit Tucson’s Executive Vice President Felipe Garcia. “Every year on average we get about 23-24 million visits by Mexican nationals. And we found out that they spend about $1 billion — and that’s with a ‘b’ — every year.”
Visit Tucson opened tourism offices in Sonora more than a decade ago to foster that connection, he said, welcoming Sonoran visitors to see Arizona as a second home when visiting family, vacationing, or most importantly, shopping. But border travel restrictions threaten to sever important cross-border bonds vital to Arizona’s economic recovery.
The package delivery service is a way to boost those ties, he said. Since many stores don’t ship to Mexico, or charge high rates if they do, Visit Tucson is charging what Garcia says is a lesser fee for Mexican shoppers to ship orders sent to a Tucson address, then delivering them twice a week to Sonora. From there, they can also be shipped to other parts of Mexico.
The sales taxes from those orders stay in Arizona. And while it's not enough to compensate for the money Mexican travelers usually spend at Tucson malls, restaurants and hotels, with clients already ordering everything from a pair of socks to a hot tub, Garcia said, it's better than nothing.
“Of course our goal is to bring people from Mexico to Tucson. But since we’re not able to right now because of the border closure, what can we do if they cannot come and buy the product? How can we get the product down there?” Garcia said.
“It’s a really good idea,” said Jose Ivan Rodriquez-Sanchez, an economist with the Baker Institute for Public Policy’s Center for the United States and Mexico. “At the end what you need is some money, for example, to come to the state government, in this case with taxes. And at least some people can get the goods that they want on the Mexican side. And they are paying — maybe not a huge amount — but it’s helping those businesses that need to stay afloat until the economy improves.”
Rodriguez-Sanchez has been studying the economic impacts of border restrictions, and said much of what has been defined as “nonessential” travel is essential to borderland economies.
“We have to understand that they need each other, economically," he said. "And the impact isn’t just on communities directly on the border, but farther from there, too."
U.S. border counties are losing billions of dollars because of reduced cross-border mobility, he said. That might not be a huge chunk of the economy in places like Tucson or Phoenix. But it’s one more hit for businesses already struggling to keep doors open during the pandemic.
Of course, where one door closes another opens, says Jesus Ruiz, who runs Got BOX, the package delivery service offered by Visit Tucson.
“The pandemic has been negative, especially for those who have gotten sick,” he said. “But I think we have to also look at how in some ways this has opened doors to something different and to new opportunities.”
Ruiz and his business partner have been trying to get a delivery operation running from Arizona to Sonora for years, with limited success. But the pandemic has forced people in Mexico to re-evaluate online shopping, he said, and now businesses is booming. He said in recent months they've had about 800 Sonoran households place orders.
“A lot people, and especially people who might be older, were used to crossing the border and going to the store. But now they’ve had to learn make their purchases online, and I think it will be really hard to go back,” he said.
Badillo, who was collecting her package at Visit Tucson, agrees.
He thinks the current necessity to replace store visits with online orders is the beginning of a permanent change for many Mexican shoppers who’ve found that it’s easier, and often cheaper, to have packages delivered to them south of the border than to go to Arizona to shop in-person.
She does plan to visit Tucson again when the pandemic is over. After all, the trips are about more than just shopping — they’re visits to family and vacations.
But the next time her football-fanatic husband orders new NFL jerseys, or she needs new shoes for the kids, she said she’ll be more likely to order online and have the packages delivered directly to Hermosillo.
“If you're just going to pick it up, it’s better that they bring it to you," she said. "Then you don’t have to put miles on your car, risk driving on the highway, pay for gas and hotels.”
Why go to the trouble and expense of traveling all the way to Tucson, she said, when now she doesn’t have to?