1. Headline
  1. Headline
By Lourdes Medrano Correspondent
Christian Science Monitor
updated 6/24/2011 4:04:17 PM ET 2011-06-24T20:04:17

The once bustling streets of jovial, persistent merchants beckoning tourists into their shops in this Mexican town, just over the Arizona border, are mostly quiet these days, the familiar mix of Spanish and English conversation a thing of the past.

Across the US-Mexico divide, brutal drug violence has badly bruised border tourism. Even here in Nogales, with a tourist district literally two blocks from the U.S., the center is empty.

So city planners are sponsoring yet another public event — this one a three-day tequila festival that begins Friday, showcasing Mexico's traditional drink, along with mariachis, dance performances, and a classic car show — in an attempt to boost confidence, especially among Americans, that a visit to the town is indeed not a death sentence.

  1. Don't miss these Travel stories
    1. Lords of the gourd compete for Punkin Chunkin honors

      With teams using more than 100 unique apparatuses to launch globular projectiles a half-mile or more, the 27th annual Worl...

    2. Airports, airlines work hard to return your lost items
    3. Expert: Tourist hordes threaten Sistine Chapel's art
    4. MGM Grand wants Las Vegas guests to Stay Well
    5. Report: Airlines collecting $36.1B in fees this year

“We’d like Americans to come see for themselves that maybe Nogales is not as bad as some people say,” says Jorge Valenzuela, who was hired as the city’s first tourism director late last year.

City officials are in many ways working harder than they ever have, dreaming of new events to promote the positives of Nogales. In late 2010, they began to revive the city’s ailing tourism sector in earnest with the opening of a visitors center, street improvements, the installment of security cameras, and the addition of police patrols. This year, the chamber of commerce launched a “Let’s speak well of Nogales” campaign to help burnish the city’s image.

“We never really had to promote the city before but now we do,” said chamber director Marcela Freig Couvillier before that campaign began.

Special events continue to push the notion that Nogales is a safe place. In late May, about 500 people raced through Avenida Obregon in a 5-kilometer run dubbed “Go with confidence.”

Mona Mizell, who lives in Green Valley, Ariz., was among a handful of Americans who took part in the race. Ms. Mizell, who took first place among female runners older than 60, says she has always felt safe in Nogales.

“I really feel sorry for the business people here,” she said at the time.

And she should. Until recently, Americans strolling the main drag, Avenida Alvaro Obregon, were as ubiquitous as the vendors who hawked silver bracelets, sombreros, and leather belts.

Then Mexican President Felipe Calderón declared war on organized crime and the historically tranquil Nogales gradually began to feel the impact of drug-related violence, including public shootouts and kidnappings. In 2006, the city recorded 35 homicides. By the end of last year, the official body count totaled 202, although the local press tallied a higher count. Killings appear to be down this year but activists say the violence has touched more people with no known ties to drug trafficking.

The tourism district close to the international line remains well patrolled and largely free of violence, Mr. Valenzuela points out. But it is something that officials can no longer take for granted. Instead, they have to continue hammering out the message, be it in the form of tequila festivals and other events, and hope that Americans are hearing.

More from the Monitor:

This article, “Mexican border town resorts to tequila festival to boost tourism,” first appeared on CSMonitor.com.

© 2012 Christian Science Monitor

Photos: Marvelous Mexico

loading photos...
  1. Tempting Tulum

    The Mayan City of Tulum, Mexico is located on the Caribbean Sea coast of the state of Quintana Roo, Mexico. (Ml Sinibaldi / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. View from Palenque

    Tourists sit atop a pyramid in Palenque, set in the foothills of the Tumbal mountains of Chiapas Mexico. (Marco Ugarte / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Blessings in Chiapas

    A tzotzil child walks in front of the church of San Cristobal de las Casas in Chiapas. (Matias Recart / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Luxury in Puerto Vallarta

    The terrace on the Celestial Suite is seen at Hacienda San Angel in Puerto Vallarta. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Ancient stories

    This photo shows details of a Maya stone, relating the coming to power of governor Sir Jupiter Humenate and dated 613 AC, found in Tonina, Ocosingo, Chiapas. (Janet Schwartz / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Mexico magic

    Mexico City, the capital city of the nation of Mexico. (Diego Goldberg / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Musical Mexico

    A mariachi band play on a punt at the Floating Gardens of Xochimilco in Mexico City. (Danny Lehman / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Cool Cancun

    Cancun, Mexico is ranked as one of the top international vacation destinations. The beaches of Cancun have been completely restored following damage caused by Hurricane Wilma in 2005. Travelers will find its newly renovated resorts, restaurants, beaches and attractions better and even more accessible than ever. (Business Wire) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Isla bonita

    The ferry landing on Isla Mujeres, Mexico. Isla Mujeres is a tiny island mere miles from the Yucatan coast, and feels a world away from Cancun's hustle and bustle. Isla Mujeres, thriving in its own tourism, manages to maintain the feeling of a small fishing village. (Anja Schlein / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Soccer and bullfights

    Estadio Azul (left), a soccer stadium; and Plaza Mexico, the world's largest bullring, in Mexico City. (Danny Lehman / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Azure Cortez

    People kayak in the Bahia de Loreto National Park, in the Sea of Cortez, Mexico. (Terry Prichard / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  1. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  2. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  3. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  4. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments

More on TODAY.com

  1. Brittany Diaz via Facebook

    Brittany Maynard to her husband: 'My heart is so full of love for you'

    10/30/2014 8:27:16 PM +00:00 2014-10-30T20:27:16
  1. TODAY

    video Celebs guess: Who will TODAY be for Halloween 2014?

    10/30/2014 7:32:19 PM +00:00 2014-10-30T19:32:19
  1. Courtesy of Erica Hill

    Why I run: Erica Hill inspired by dad’s battle with cancer

    10/30/2014 7:08:23 PM +00:00 2014-10-30T19:08:23
  1. Samantha Okazaki / TODAY

    At Home with TODAY: Jenna Wolfe shows the love in Harper's nursery

    10/30/2014 11:37:28 AM +00:00 2014-10-30T11:37:28
  1. @msjennafischer via Instagram

    Working from home: 'Office' star Jenna Fischer shares selfie with baby

    10/30/2014 11:01:20 PM +00:00 2014-10-30T23:01:20