The once-booming curio business on Tijuana's Avenida Revolución has dwindled to a trickle as the tastes of tourists who still visit what was once known as "the most traveled avenue in the world" have shifted, according to Alan Bautista Plascencia, director of the city's tourism committee.
In a recent interview published by El Sol de Tijuana, Bautista cited studies conducted by the tourism agency — the latest in 2012 — showing that tourists today are looking principally for cultural events, activities involving the arts, and fine-dining experiences.
Gone are the days when a tourist could barely walk a few feet down the broad avenue in downtown Tijuana without encountering street hawkers promising a "special price just for you" for articles such as blankets, cheap jewelry, wrestlers' masks, miniature guitars, puppets, piñatas, and all manner of decorative knick-knacks.
"We have been working with business owners so that they restock products of higher quality and of more interest to tourists," Bautista told El Sol.
The famed tourist destination has been struggling to recover from a series of blows that began with the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The requirement that travelers crossing the border back into the U.S. have a passport, the bad press and resulting panic caused by the drug wars of a few years ago, and border-wait times that today sometimes approach four hours have further hindered tourism.
As many as 65 percent of the businesses that once lined Avenida Revolución have shuttered over the past ten years, including many popular restaurants, bars, and discos. A recent trip to downtown Tijuana on a Saturday night revealed only a smattering of pedestrians along Revolución's wide sidewalks, compared to its heyday, when police had to close the street to motor vehicles mid-evening because of an overflow of foot traffic that lasted into the wee hours.
Bautista said his committee has established a special trust fund in an effort to rehabilitate downtown Tijuana with a view toward reviving tourism. But, he told El Sol, "These are medium to long-range projects — not overnight projects." And they require funding from already hard-pressed business owners, he said.