Alongside a browned-out patch of earth about 20 miles south
of downtown San Diego, one finds a study in contrasts. Rising from ground level
are a pair of border fences, one on the U.S. side, the other on the Mexico
side, each fortified with barbed wire.
But spanning the border 390 feet over the top of those
fences is an enclosed bridge that connects Tijuana's airport with the U.S.
The Cross Border Xpress (CBX), as the privately owned bridge
and connected terminal on the U.S. side are called, has been open only since
December 2015. But even as the Trump administration pushes to build a border
wall, the CBX has flourished. In 2016, 1.3 million passengers made use of the
bridge, and in 2017 the count topped 1.9 million, CBX said.
So far, a large majority of those customers have either been
Mexican-Americans, Mexican immigrants visiting home or people coming to the
U.S. from the Mexico side.
Now, say officials from CBX and Tijuana's dominant carrier,
Volaris, it is time to turn the marketing focus to non-Hispanic Americans from
Southern California in search of a Mexico vacation.
Miguel Aguiniga, Volaris' director of market development,
said, "Mostly, it's going to be about price, the convenience of going
across, the price savings of [flying] from Tijuana instead of the U.S."
CBX is owned by a combination of American and Mexican
investors. Customers pay $16 one-way or $29 roundtrip to use the terminal.
Parking at CBX costs $20 per day. Four car rental companies operate at the
terminal, and a Starbucks is slated to open this spring.
A customs station outside a duty-free shop at the CBX terminal. Photo Credit: Robert Silk
Customers flying from the U.S. side can check in for their
flight at CBX. They then pass through the U.S. customs station, displaying
their airline ticket, which is uniquely required at this border crossing. From
there, they cross the bridge into the Tijuana airport, where they go through
Mexican immigration and airport security and then check their luggage before
proceeding to the gates.
Outbound CBX customers are allowed to cross the border 24
hours ahead of their flight, leaving time for a visit to Tijuana. But Customs
and Border Protection requires arriving passengers to cross into the U.S.
within two hours.
Tijuana's airport has long drawn passengers from Southern
California who are attracted to its wide selection of intra-Mexico routes.
Volaris, Aeromexico, VivaAerobus and Interjet fly to a combined 33 Mexican
locales from Tijuana. But the inconvenience of using the San Ysidro border
crossing to reach the airport has long been a deterrent for potential
passengers. Crossing into the U.S. there can often take two hours or more,
while the typical customs line for those heading to the CBX terminal from
Tijuana's airport is 15 minutes, according to Luis Palacios, CBX's chief
Statistics suggest that the CBX facility has already brought
new customers to Tijuana. In 2016, CBX's first year of operation, the airport
serviced 6.3 million passengers, up a robust 27% from a year earlier. Through
the third quarter of last year, the passenger count was up an additional 15.2%,
according to the financial filings of Grupo Aeropuerto del Pacifico, the
Mexican company that operates the Tijuana airport and is an investor in CBX.
By comparison, the number of passengers at Tijuana grew 14%
between 2013 and 2015, according to CBX.
Airlines, naturally, are taking notice of the change.
Volaris cites the cross-border bridge as a key reason for its decision to begin
flights in November from Tijuana to Guatemala City and San Salvador.
Aguiniga said the carrier has also increased frequencies on
flights to the resort destinations Los Cabos and Puerto Vallarta since the
opening of CBX and launched Tijuana-Cancun service. He added that Volaris will
expand its Tijuana route network this calendar year to include two additional,
as-yet-unnamed resort locales.
In addition to Cabo, Cancun and Puerto Vallarta, Volaris
currently flies to the beach destinations Mazatlan and Acapulco from Tijuana.
Still, both Aguiniga and Palacios say they have thus far
done little to promote CBX to the non-Hispanic American market, which for the
previous two years comprised only about 5% of the facility's users.
This year, Volaris and CBX will team up in a marketing campaign
targeting leisure travelers. Among other efforts, Palacios said, CBX plans to
begin offering custom packages for travel agents through its website by the end
of June. The company has not yet decided if it will offer commissions, he said.
The 390-foot CBX bridge connects the U.S. to the Tijuana airport. Photo Credit: Robert Silk
Other marketing plans include a social media campaign,
outreach to major U.S. consumer travel publications and cross promotions with
Mexican resort towns and cultural destinations.
One disadvantage Tijuana's airport has when it comes to
attracting the vacation market is its dearth of frequencies to Mexican beach
resorts. For example, while six carriers offer a combined nine flights on
Saturdays alone from Los Angeles Airport to Los Cabos, only Volaris services
the Tijuana-Los Cabos route, offering 10 departures per week, according to the
Flight Connections website.
That disparity in competition helped make roundtrip airfares
between Los Angeles and Los Cabos $194 cheaper, on average, in December than
Tijuana-Los Cabos itineraries, according to the app Hopper, which tracks
airfares for price-conscious shoppers. Hopper measures prices based on the fare
paid by a traveler buying airfare that is cheaper than the fares paid by 90% of
On the other hand, Tijuana offered substantially cheaper
fares to Mexico City than Los Angeles did, although both airports have several
carriers flying the route.
Ultimately, Palacios said, the lower taxes on a domestic
Mexican flight and cheaper overhead will benefit airlines operating to Mexico
destinations from Tijuana. That, in turn, will draw customers to the CBX, he
"It's a world-class terminal, a border crossing that is
second to none anywhere in the world, and the pricing structure will always be
better," he said.