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Tourism still a bright spot

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Cainan Harris, general manager of the Hyatt Regency Albuquerque, enjoys a bird’s-eye view of Downtown Albuquerque from a 19th-floor hotel room window. For Harris, that view is one of the many things that contribute to the success of the tourism industry in Albuquerque.

Among the other factors Harris points to is the New Mexico True campaign, which sells the state in selected markets across the country. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and the state’s new tourism secretary, Jen Schroer, former president and chief executive of the New Mexico Hospitality Association, say they plan to expand the advertising campaign, launched under former Gov. Susana Martinez.

Tourism in general has been a bright spot in the New Mexico economy in recent years. Employment in the industry has risen three times as fast as overall employment, according to state figures.

Cainan Harris, general manager of the Hyatt Regency Albuquerque, visits a room with a breathtaking view on the 19th floor. (Stephen Montoya/Albuquerque Journal)

Harris, who manages 392 rooms and 208 employees who run the day-to-day operations at the Hyatt, said he certainly has seen an influx of visitors over the past five years, mainly due to convention bookings and the ad campaign.

“It creates an awareness and an interest in our state that we’ve never seen before,” Harris said. “On a local level, it’s created a sense of pride in the beauty of our state, cultural, rich history, cuisine, etc. On a regional and national level, the campaign is eye-catching, and it creates a sense of intrigue and wanderlust to visit New Mexico. We find that many times, visitors aren’t really sure what to expect when visiting New Mexico, and this campaign helps plant the seed, that this should be on their list of places to visit, a destination so very different from where they have traveled before. ”

The New Mexico True campaign has increased to $10.2 million from its original $2.1 million budget seven years ago and has been supported at the state Legislature every year.

Schroer said in an email that the New Mexico True campaign has yielded powerful results. The campaign has yielded a 7 to 1 return on investment, according to inhouse research. Visitor spending generated $661 million in local and state taxes in 2017, the most recent year for which figures are available, she said.

“Based on research, our advertising is developed to intentionally share the true beauty and authenticity of New Mexican history, cuisine, arts and outdoor recreation,” Schroer said. “With this data we are able to strategically invite visitors and continually contribute to New Mexico’s economy.”

Visitors in the lobby at the Hyatt Regency Albuquerque can view these three chandeliers hanging from the center skylight in the lounge area of the hotel. (Stephen Montoya/Albuquerque Journal )

Schroer said this is a result of research, data-based decision-making, targeted marketing and the New Mexico True brand.

Still, some in the industry say it could use some tweaking, particularly in selling Albuquerque.

Steve and Kara Grant, the owners of the Downtown Historic Bed and Breakfast of Albuquerque, said their business actually had better numbers in 2017 than it did in 2018. And while they like what New Mexico True has done for the state – it’s one of the factors that led them to expand their business – they’d like to see it do more for the state’s largest city.

“For us, I would say the New Mexico True campaign hasn’t really done a good enough job to try and market to the greater Albuquerque area,” Kara Grant said. “We get a lot of people who fly in to Albuquerque and take off to Taos or Santa Fe, and when they get back they are looking for more to do.”

Steve and Kara Grant stand inside one of their two bed-and-breakfasts near Downtown Albuquerque. This home, called the Spy House, has an interesting history that links back to the atomic bomb.

Kara Grant said guests often come back from other places only to comment on the quality of Albuquerque’s museums, restaurants and little shops.

“We’ve got a lot to keep people here instead of just flying over and looking at us as a pit stop to take off somewhere else,” she said.

Schroer said Albuquerque has shared in the statewide growth of tourism.

“Bernalillo County has seen strong growth in visitation, economic impact and tourism employment since 2011,” Schroer said.

Economic benefits

Tania Armenta, president and CEO of Visit Albuquerque, would agree.

Tania Armenta

“Travel and tourism is big business for Albuquerque and continues to be a bright spot for the city,” she said.

Visit Albuquerque reported that the 2018 fiscal year ended with a 7.3 percent increase in lodgers tax, which includes the new Airbnb collections that began in November 2017. But even without the Airbnb collections, Armenta said, the increase would have been 5.3 percent.

In Albuquerque, the lodgers tax is 5 percent plus a 1 percent hospitality fee.

For the first quarter of the 2019 fiscal year, which began July 1, 2018, collections were up 10.8 percent over the same period a year earlier. Brenna Moore, spokeswoman for Visit Albuquerque, said in an email that if you remove the Airbnb collections, the tax receipts would still be up 7.3 percent year-over-year.

Armenta said hotel occupancy for 2018 went up 3.6 percent, and the average daily room rate increased 2.7 percent.

Visit Albuquerque said more than $2 billion in economic impact was generated by the city’s tourism industry last year, according to New Mexico Tourism Department statistics.

At the state level, tourism provided $6.6 billion in direct visitor spending, according to Aimee Awonohopay, spokeswoman for the state’s Tourism Department.

According to the state Department of Workforce Solutions, statewide employment in leisure and hospitality increased by 15,200, or 17 percent, from November 2013 to November 2018. That was more than three times the percentage increase for total nonfarm employment, which was up 5.1 percent.

In Albuquerque, the city’s tourism industry employs over 43,000 people, the most ever, Armenta said.

She also pointed to a Longwoods International Travel USA study conducted for the state Tourism Department, which said the city’s tourism industry brings about 6.2 million visitors to Albuquerque each year, generating about $69 million in local taxes.

Armenta also reported that hotel occupancy for 2018 was up 3.6 percent and the average daily room rate increased 2.7 percent, according to Smith Travel Research.

The Albuquerque Convention Center this year is slated to host the same number of citywide groups as 2018, but Visit Albuquerque says there will be more room nights and a higher direct spend. So far, there 18 citywide events, 11 meetings and 113 business groups booked for the convention center, including the National Senior Games.

Coming this year

Visit Albuquerque says it will launch a new personalized, trip planning solution this year that creates a custom itinerary for each user based on information such as interests, the season, trip length, budget and preferences. Once built, the itineraries can be shared on social media.

Schroer said that kind of authentic, customized experience is exactly what visitors are looking for when they come to New Mexico.

“Research shows more and more people are seeking authentic experiences,” she said.

For example, in 2017, 11 percent of tourists to New Mexico visited a Native American community, according to a Longwoods study.

“In a state rich in culture and historic significance, there is much to learn, share, and, of course, Instagram,” Schoer said.”Every traveler wants to know the local’s perspective on where to get the hottest green chile or which hiking trail makes for the most spectacular view.”

Harris said more than ever, travelers want an experiential trip, where they can immerse themselves in a destination.

“People are adventurous,” Harris said. “(They want) to find that truly local and authentic experience, whether it’s the best brewery or coffee shop in Albuquerque, or that hidden gem that’s a favorite to locals.”

And, of course, that can be done on a personal level. Steve and Kara Grant, the Albuquerque bed and breakfast operators, provide their guests with local chile and coffee to start a conversation with their guests about the best local spots.

“Many of our guests want to know what we know,” Kara Grant said. “Some of them aren’t interested in going to big tourist spots. Instead they ask us about where we go and where we eat. The local experience is really where it’s at as we look into the future of our company.”

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