With travel restrictions at the border preventing a significant number of their customers from visiting Nogales, many local hotel operators say they’ve been struggling to keep their businesses going.
But some have received a timely boost in the form of bookings from contractors working on the major roadway construction project on State Route 189, or Mariposa Road.
Manu Naik, owner of Motel 6 and the Best Western Sonora Inn and Suites, said on Wednesday that his two Mariposa Road-area businesses haven’t seen their usual numbers for this time of year, but are still getting a slight lift from the out-of-town workers.
“Now is the peak season because of the Mexican tourists. But right now, since the border is closed for visa people, the business is slow,” Naik said, referring to the restrictions preventing foreign nationals with tourist visas from entering the United States through the local ports of entry.
Still, he added: “Because of the road project, the local hotels get the business… because the construction workers stay here.”
Construction of flyover ramps connecting Interstate 19 to Mariposa Road, along with related roadway improvements, began in May, bringing dozens of workers to town to take part in the project.
According to Tom Herrmann, spokesman for the Arizona Department of Transportation, between 60 and 70 people were working on the flyover ramp project as of Wednesday morning.
Of those, between 20 and 25 were staying at hotels in the Nogales area, he said.
Naik said that most construction workers had opted for the Best Western, given its proximity to the worksite. As for the independent contractors who have to cover their own expenses, they opt for the slightly farther away, but more affordable rooms at Motel 6.
As of Wednesday afternoon, about 20 of the 79 rooms at the Motel 6 were booked. At the Best Western, general manager Nina Naik said they had booked just under 50 percent of their 65 rooms.
“Right now, we have a few customers from the construction on the freeway, and some corporate,” Nina Naik said, adding that while the hotel often receives business from U.S. Border Patrol agents visiting town for work throughout the year, they hadn’t seen many of late.
The Holiday Inn Express and Candlewood Suites hotels, located near the Best Western on the west side of the interstate, have had ongoing business from National Guard troops assigned to help U.S. Customs and Border Protection in the area. However, their management did not respond to repeated requests for comment on how they might have benefitted from construction-related business.
For their part, the Naiks said their Mariposa Road hotels face competition from the neighboring hotels that offer additional features.
“They do have kitchens in their hotel rooms, so that makes a difference,” Nina Naik said, noting that those features appeal to longer-term customers, including construction workers and members of the National Guard.
‘Nobody is coming’
The number of hotel guests in town also has financial implications for the City of Nogales, which collects a bed tax from local lodging establishments. And reports from City Hall show a decline – though not a bottoming out – of those revenues.
In July, when the border travel restrictions had already been in place for four months, the city received a little less than $25,000 in bed tax revenue. That was down from $32,450 during the same month in 2019, but still higher than the $18,750 the city took in during July 2018.
The month of August showed a similar trend, with the city taking in more than $34,000 in bed tax revenue, compared to more than $35,500 last year and nearly $25,850 in August 2018.
During September, the most recent month shown on the city’s finance reports, Nogales hotels generated approximately $22,350 in bed taxes. The city received more than $28,100 during the same month last year and more than $19,329 in September 2018.
But that revenue seems to be coming mainly from the hotels on Mariposa Road that benefit from the construction and National Guard clientele, rather than the lodgings farther south on Grand Avenue.
“I didn’t get any business at all,” said Arun Patel, owner of the El Dorado Inn Suites. “In my hotel, I didn’t see any construction people staying here.”
Across the street at the Time Motel, co-owner Manuben “Maggie” Bhakta said: “I have no idea why, but nobody is staying here.”
As of Sunday afternoon, Bhakta said that all 43 rooms at the Time Motel were empty. Numbers like those were making for a dramatically slow month of November, which Bhakta said would typically be the start of their peak season as Mexican tourists travel through and stay in town while on holiday shopping trips.
For his part, Patel said he hasn’t seen any peak or off seasons this year, considering the border restrictions have kept his numbers consistently low throughout the past eight months.
“Everybody is tired because… we are a border business, but nobody is coming,” Bhakta said. “It’s hard.”
Back at the uptown lodging on Mariposa Road, manager Nina Naik of the Best Western was thankful for the business, albeit limited, that the construction project had brought during hard times.
“It’s definitely helping us survive,” she said.
(Additional reporting by Nick Phillips.)