The Strong Dollar Isn’t So Great for Some Texas Towns

What happens when your town depends on pesos from Mexican tourists, instead of dollars?

By Joy DiazMarch 1, 2016 10:54 am,

The strong dollar – something we’ve been hearing a lot about in the last year or so – has been seen as a good thing for the American consumer. But it may not actually be such a good thing for some Texas towns.

Experts will tell you a strong dollar allows American consumers to buy foreign goods and services on the cheap. Since I’m not an expert, it’s easier for me to understand it by just literally imagining a strong dollar bill – big muscles and all – carrying more for me.

But what happens when, instead of dollars, your town’s coffers depend heavily on pesos from Mexican tourists?

“Every outlet mall in Texas has seen a decrease from that international market and everyone is suffering a little” Rebecca Ybarra Ramirez, with the San Marcos Tourism and Visitors Bureau, says.

Ramirez has noticed that our strong dollar is crushing the Mexican peso.

Jose Luis Estrada is one of those rare Mexican tourists still coming to Texas. He and his friends are here to watch some rodeo shows. Today, he’s shopping for his wife – he got her a nice purse.

“It’s like paying your taxes – you know?” Estrada says in Spanish. “Same thing with the wife – a bribe so she’ll let me travel again with my friends.”

Mexican tourists like Estrada used to account for 30 cents of every dollar made at the outlet stores in San Marcos. Not anymore.

The outlets sure miss them – but you know who else misses these tourists the strong dollar has scared away? The Texas Comptroller’s office. Kevin Lyons is the spokesperson there – he says San Marcos is not the only city affected.

Lyons ran the numbers for how much El Paso, Laredo and San Marcos made in sales taxes during the first half of 2014 and compared them what they made during the first half of 2015.

“If we go to El Paso first,” Lyons says. “There’s a difference of about $73 million.”

That’s a big loss.

What about Laredo? Lyons says the losses there were about $46 million. There’s also San Marcos to think of.

“Interestingly enough though, San Marcos saw an increase of about $18 million,” Lyons says.

It turns out another group is making up for the missing Mexican tourists and their pesos.

“We have a large delegation of Chinese (people), now that there are direct flights from China into Houston and DFW airports,” Rebecca Ramirez says.

From Houston and Dallas those tourists are not making their way across the state to El Paso to shop. But they are headed to San Marcos, a mere two to three hour-drive away.

On the day I visited, employees at the San Marcos outlet malls were actually replacing the old directory signs in English and Spanish – for new ones in Chinese.