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Tourism spending in NM up 2.1 percent

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Travelers in New Mexico opened their wallets a little wider last year.

Direct visitor spending in New Mexico hit $6.4 billion statewide in 2016, a 2.1 percent increase over the previous year, the state Department of Tourism said Wednesday.

The department said 92,000 jobs, or one in 12 statewide, is sustained by visitor spending, and tourism generated $642 million in state and local taxes in 2016.

Since 2010, jobs have grown in the sector by nearly 6,000 positions, according to data from the department. In the same time period, direct visitor spending grew by $1.2 billion.

“Tourism plays a vital role in diversifying our state’s economy,” said Gov. Susana Martinez in an announcement touting the seventh consecutive year of growth in the sector’s economic impact. “More people visiting New Mexico means more dollars going into our communities — and that means more jobs and better opportunities for our families.”

In July, Martinez said the state’s tourism numbers broke records in 2016 with 34.4 million trips, beating the 2015 record by 1 million. Of 2016’s trips, roughly 24.3 million, or 70 percent, were by out-of-state visitors.

That figure could include the same travelers more than once. For example, an El Paso resident who went to Las Cruces four times last year would count four times.

The department said the three largest sectors for visitor spending in 2016 were lodging at 31 percent; food and beverage at 23 percent; and retail at 17 percent. On average, each visitor spent $183.50 per trip, with leisure travel still the primary reason for travel in New Mexico.

Latham said lower gas prices may have positively affected travel in the state last year. “Gas prices likely played a factor, along with additional advertising in our target markets and promotional campaigns like ‘Find Your New Mexico True Park,’ a coordinated effort with State Parks, Historic Sites and the National Park Service centennial to raise awareness and increase visitation.”

From 2015 to 2016, Otero County saw the largest jump in visitor spending with a 5.1 percent increase, followed by Colfax County at 5 percent. Bernalillo County saw a 3.5 percent increase, claiming $2.1 billion of the $6.4 billion statewide. In 2016, visitor spending supported 32,000 jobs in Bernalillo County, contributing $956 million in income.

Bernalillo County is the site of one of the state’s largest tourism draws: the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. In 2016, the event had 839,309 visits.

State Tourism Secretary Rebecca Latham said tourism dollars and jobs can be found in every New Mexico community. She lauded efforts to promote visitation through the New Mexico True advertising campaign.

“I am thrilled to see the positive trend of record-breaking economic impact continuing in our beautiful state,” Latham said. “Tourism is an industry worth investing in. Every dollar spent on New Mexico True advertising delivers $7 back to the tax base and offsets the household tax burden for hard working New Mexican families.”

Of the department’s general fund appropriation of $12.6 million for the current fiscal year, $9.8 million is deployed toward advertising.

The department’s top fly markets are Denver, Dallas, Austin, Houston, Phoenix, San Diego and Chicago; primary drive markets are Southern Colorado, Eastern Arizona and West Texas.

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