Baja, open for spring breakers. Our state tourism honcho, Oscar Escobedo, is promoting Baja as a destination for spring breakers this coming season. Escobedo has already appeared in the Good Morning San Diego TV show and on KGTV news promoting us.
Baja has been slowly recovering as a spring break destination in the last couple of years, after the security crisis about 11 years ago, completely wiped us off the destinations list.
“Security is a priority subject for us, that’s why, while working with authorities on both sides of the border, we can assure our visitors that trust and tranquility have prospered in our territory that, although divided by a border, operates as a sole region”, stated Escobedo.
The state official went on to comment that 84% of the foreign visitors in our state come from California, generating an increase of tourism during 2018 without any precedent, stating that over 27.5 million tourists visited us during last year, leaving an economic benefit for the region of more than 6 billion USD.
Ensenada Carnival in trouble. Last week, the Ensenada chamber of commerce gave a press conference, in which they stated that they were starting a formal legal and lobbying battle against the carnival, unless they change the location from the boulevard.
Business owners have long complained when the carnival is on the boulevard, because they lose almost all their business during the carnival days, as streets are closed for circulation. Also, traffic gets crazy since the boulevard is one of the main streets to get in and out of Ensenada.
Jorge Menchaca, head of the local chamber of commerce, and Jorge Cortes, president of the business council, assured that the carnival affects about 200 local businesses greatly when it’s done on the boulevard.
They are proposing to change the location to Playa Hermosa, where it has been done a couple times before and affects a lot less businesses, although it has gotten a lot less people when it is done in this location.
The city of Ensenada is between a rock and a hard place regarding this, as they have already received the 1 million pesos payment from the event organizers, who have already promoted the carnival heavily in most of the media in this location. If the city decides to change the location at this point, it will surely piss off organizers, who in turn could sue the city for breach of contract.
Two new hotels open in Ensenada. City Express announced that it has started operating its two, brand new hotels in Ensenada, adding 261 rooms to the local room inventory.
“With the opening of these two properties, we will contribute to the development of the tourism industry in Ensenada, with hotel infrastructure. At the same time, we are offering travelers another lodging option, backed up by a recognized national hotel chain,” said Monica Narro, head of public relations for the hotel chain.
The company will offer two different types of hotels: City Express Plus, located in the Viento property in El Sauzal, with 134 higher-end, ocean view rooms, and their City Express property on Boulevard Costero, offering more affordable hotel rooms.
City Express offers a total of 1,342 hotel rooms in Baja in it’s 11 locations, distributed in Mexicali, Tijuana, Rosarito and now Ensenada.
Snow birds flock to Algodones. Tourism officials from Mexicali said that more than 281 thousand snow birds visited the city of Algodones in Mexicali, nicknamed “molar city” because it has more dental offices per capita than any other city in the world, during 2018 generating an economic benefit for the area of 40 million dollars.
Snowbirds are people from Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana in the US, and British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan in Canada, that fly over to warmer climates.
In this case most of these are warming up in the sea of Cortez, and they take advantage of the lower dental service prices in Algodones, which are normally 50% to 70% less than in their home countries.
No desalination plant for Rosarito. It looks like the new desalination plant that was going to be created in Rosarito by Consolidated Water is not going to be built after all.
Luis Moreno, state congressman from the “Transformemos” party, said that the cancellation of the plant is imminent since the state government was not able to give the assurances needed for the company.
The time limit for the state government to offer these assurances, which were an increased water price from the water agency, along with some tax breaks and funds to pay for the water, was December 31st last year.
State congress did not approve the changes needed, although the state government was supporting the controversial project that was also opposed by local environmental groups and many citizens.
Consolidated Water is still hoping that the state government rescues the project, which seems far-fetched, considering the majority of the state congress is now held by parties opposing the plant.
Just 21 days after a ban on plastic shopping bags and containers in the city of Ensenada went into effect, the city council decided to suspend it.
Emilio Martinez, the Ensenada councilman that promoted the ban on plastics, informed that the suspension of the brand-new law will be for an undefined amount of time.
He stated that the city is working on promoting an intense campaign that would inform the general public about the use of plastic and the effect it has on the world, particularly in Mexico.
Martinez said that the reform of the law never had a coercive or fine-collecting objective but that it was preventive in order to strengthen the environment.
He added that along with the campaign, authorities will work closely with the private sector in order to substitute plastics for other non-contaminating materials.
Rosarito beach passed a similar law last December with steep fines for stores that give non-biodegradable plastic bags to their customers, but they are not enforcing said fines until April this year in order to give time to local businesses and people to find better options for carrying their goods.
The first time I met with Gerardo Cervantes, local Operations Manager for the Bay Area commercial drone software developer Cape, he had just successfully completed a contract with the city of Ensenada for a test project of drone-assisted first responder enhancement in cooperation with the local police department.
Mayor Marco Antonio Novelo had approved the test project, and reported to the public in June 2018 that the result of that effort was a 10% reduction in crime and more than 500 arrests, notably by apprehending perpetrators in the act of attempting home burglaries or other felonious activities.
Cape-enabled drones also proved invaluable in respect to the allocation of resources to assist first responders in many crisis situations, such as traffic accidents and critical medical emergencies.
Although Cape is based in the San Francisco Bay Area, they maintain a headquarters here in Ensenada, with an office in the Ensenada Business Center (on 4th Street in Zona Centro). They have a research and development team here, with Hector Elias (an Ensenada native) as the primary “test pilot” for Cape’s ongoing efforts to streamline and improve their state-of-the-art software.
Hector showed me some of the features of Cape’s technology that makes his company’s products superior to any other software on the market:
Drones equipped with the Cape Aerial Telepresence platform can be operated remotely from anywhere in the world.From his post near Playa Hermosa, he monitors a drone that is being teleoperated by an engineer in Redwood City, California.
Cape always utilizes the most sophisticated hardware available, including DJI M200 and M210 models, whose surveillance capabilities are second to none.
Currently, Cape is finalizing the details of a contract with the police department of Mexico City.
This arrangement was secured by Cape’s marketing specialist, Edgar Avalos, who I had the pleasure of meeting (along with Gerardo) on January 2nd.
Edgar told me that the cops there already have an operational drone program, but they are looking to improve their cybersecurity with the assistance of Cape’s software innovations. They’ll have Cape personnel present to train them and to assist them in any capacity necessary for rapid implementation of the new software to their existing (and additional) drones.
Both Edgar and Gerardo recall with pride the many situations in which they have interacted with local authorities to ensure safety and to improve response time in any critical event.
Cape provided surveillance for Peno Nieto when he came to Ensenada, as well as for AMLO when he was here campaigning.
They have been present at almost every activity where large crowds are present, such as music festivals and carnivals.
Notably, they provided aerial monitoring and drone security for the Baja 500 and Baja 1000 road races, from the starting lines to accident scenes along the routes.
In regards to the Mexico City implementation, Edgar said that the police department of that metropolis has such a massive number of personnel that Cape’s trainers will be training their trainers, and will have technicians present to assist in any manner necessary.
The benefit of having an R&D program here in Ensenada is primarily the absence of the air traffic regulations that are necessarily strict in the U.S. However (to my surprise), Edgar told me there is more air traffic here than most people realize, such as military and private helicopters, and the military air force base inside the city limits.
As a result, Cape maintains a 120-meter maximum to ensure the safety of other aircrafts, as well as of its own products.
Cape technology is versatile and impactful, and has repeatedly proven the ability to adapt expeditiously to the requirements of any given situation or event to which its assistance is requested.
As Gerardo says, “There is no competition.”
Cape is a dynamic organization, highly competitive, a close-knit team that is fiercely proud of its achievements, and is incessantly striving to improve upon its already remarkable software designs.
It is also transparent. As such, it offers to anyone who wishes to experience the thrill of flying a drone a program to satisfy that desire. It’s available weekdays from 8 am to 4 pm, and can be accessed through fly.cape.com.
Try it, you’ll like it! A trained technician will guide you through the 3-minute flight.
Ensenada city workers going back to work. After a couple weeks of being on a sit-down strike, Mayor Novelo was finally able to convince them to go back to work by promising to pay the remainder of their Christmas bonuses before January 21st.
City workers are pretty pissed off, since the city has had problems paying their salaries, and now their Christmas bonuses, which for them amounts to an extra 2 months’ salary. By law, the Christmas bonus has to be equal to at least 15 days.
When he took control of the city, Mayor Novelo announced that the city was broke; since then, we have seen the effects of it. There are almost no streets in the city without potholes, and trash pickup services have been reduced to almost once a month now.
City workers don’t believe it, though; they say it’s not so much the lack of funds, but rather the inability to properly manage the situations that are affecting the city.
It has been a tough term for Mayor Novelo. He hasn’t been able to catch a break, and most people are pretty unhappy with the crises that the city is experiencing. This is probably the reason he announced last year that he would not be running for another term.
The amount the city owes its workforce in Christmas bonuses alone is about $3.8 million USD, and this administration alone has already asked for about $11.3 million USD in loans to cover other expenses. This give you an idea how seriously the fiscal situation is for Ensenada.
AMLO comes to Baja. Our brand-new president visited Tijuana this past Sunday in order to announce the newly created free zone for the northern border along with our state governor Kiko Vega.
The president is scheduling visits to different parts of the country on weekends in order to have time during the week to attend to his presidential duties in his office in Mexico City.
He is famous now for travelling on commercial planes and even choosing the cheapest flights for his travel.
Migrants safe from police. Alma Migrante, a local non-profit group that helps immigrants know their rights, has won a trial making it illegal for local police to send immigrants guilty of committing administrative infractions to be sent to the National Migration Institute (or INM in Spanish) in order to be deported.
Representatives from Alma Migrante are stating that immigrants can only be sent for deportation if they commit a crime more serious than a minor infraction.
Although the line could be a little blurry sometimes between the two, an easy way to understand it is that an infraction would require you to pay a fine, but a crime would require jail time.
Snow is here! The civil protection office in the city of Ensenada has announced that both of our local sierras, Juarez and San Pedro Martir, have snow and are open for visits.
As always, they are recommended to drive there in a car in good condition, preferably 4×4, and bring warm clothes and supplies, especially gas and high calorie food, in case you get stranded up there.
San Pedro Martir, which always has more snow than Juarez but is also a farther away, is only open from 7:00 am to 4:00 pm every day, and is not available for overnight stays.
Jaime Nieto, head of the office, stated that the roads are not in the best shape right now, and emphasized the need for a car in good condition if you want to visit.
We’re getting more cruise ships. During 2018 a total of 270 cruise ships docked in Ensenada, carrying more than 650,000 tourists. About 70% of those tourists descended from the ship to visit the city, and they spent an average $54 dollars per person.
Tourism officials are stating that its very likely that we will get even more cruise ships this year, since some cruise liners have already booked more dates for this year. January alone has 26 arrivals in total.
Bring your own bags. Rosarito and Ensenada decided last year to eliminate plastic bags in retail shops and the new measure has been in effect since the first of the year. Steep fines were announced for offending businesses, but at least Rosarito has said that they will not issue fines until April of this year.
It is possible for you to not even notice the change if your favorite store decided to switch to paper or biodegradable plastic bags (which are almost indistinguishable from normal plastic bags). This will still be legal and an option for businesses if they want to keep offering customers this benefit.
One of the campaigns promises that gained more supporters around here for our new president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (or AMLO for short), was the proposal of a new “Free Zone” along the northern border that would reduce taxes, increase the minimum wage 100% and lower fuel prices to try and match those in the USA.
Since the first day of the year, this promise has become a reality, and you are now living in the new free zone for the northern border.
So, what does this mean for you? As a consumer, this means that you will now be paying 8% IVA on most products and services instead of the 16% you usually pay. For those of you unfamiliar with IVA, that’s the Mexican equivalent to the VAT in the US. Note that I said most; I will explain that later.
If you have a business, you will also have another benefit: Instead of paying the usual 30% on the ISR (income tax), you will now be able to receive credit for 10% of that. This means that you will only be paying 20% now.
Regarding gas prices, we have already seen some gas stations lowering their prices, since they have a special benefit in that they won’t be charging any VAT on gasoline and diesel; this reduced gas prices to exactly 16%. This reduction doesn’t actually match it to prices in the US, but it definitely closes the gap a little bit more.
Minimum wage was doubled to $176.72 pesos per day (about $9 USD); the older wage at $4.50 was a joke, and almost nobody was working for that.
Since the newly created Free Zone is defined by a decree and not a law, businesses must register for it and they will have to meet certain requirements; therefore, don’t shout bloody murder if you see 16% IVA in your ticket, since there is a possibility that some businesses don’t meet the requirements or just haven’t applied yet.
In order to be able to obtain the benefits businesses need to prove that at least 90% of their total sales are from the border region. They will also be asked to prove that they have a valid address in the region for at least 18 months. These two requirements are key in discouraging mainland businesses from establishing an address in the border just to obtain said benefits.
Businesses that are already established have until January 30th to file their application, and newly established businesses will have 30 days after registering their businesses with the SAT (which is the Mexican IRS).
The free zone objective is to increase competitiveness with the US, avoid migration and make it more attractive as an investment option.
If you were here back before 2014 you might remember that we already had lower taxes here in the border, but that benefit was removed by president Peña Nieto. At that time VAT in the area was 11%. This means that taxes now will be even lower than at that time.
Several analysts say that Northern Baja will benifit the most from this new decree, as the biggest percentage of the population in the state lives near the border, and because all its municipalities are considered part of it.
For now, the decree will be valid only for 2019 and 2020. Surely, results will be analyzed after these two years and a decision will be made on whether to extend it or not.
Every year about 15,000 people enjoy the gray-whale sighting trips to the Todos Santos Island that local boat operators in Ensenada offer.
The whale season has officially started on December 15 this year and will run through April 15 of next year, stated Amador Arteaga head of the Tourism Promotion Office for Ensenada (Proturismo).
He also said that people will also be able to enjoy watching dolphins, sea lions, birds and other marine species that usually appear during the tour.
Arteaga is inviting tourists and residents alike to enjoy the daily tours that go out from the Ensenada malecon every day at 7:00AM and come back at around 3:00PM.
Reservations are highly recommended, and prices range from $350 to $500 pesos (18.5 to 28 USD) per person.
This same day tour should not be confused with the one that goes all the way to Laguna Ojo de Liebre where you can see the baby whales fool around with their folks and sometimes even touch them. That’s a great experience too but it takes at least a couple of days.
For more information about the different whale tours offered in Ensenada contact Proturismo at 646 178 2411.