ABQ tourism has one of best years in 4 decades

The fiesta grounds are packed with people as balloons prepare for takeoff during the mass ascension at last year’s Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. (Courtesy of Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta)

Buoyed by an improving local economy and some recent infrastructure improvements, Albuquerque’s tourism industry wrapped up one of its strongest 12-month periods in the last four decades.

During Visit Albuquerque’s annual meeting Thursday, the organization announced that lodging tax collections during its last fiscal year, which ended June 30, exceeded $14.4 million, a record and an increase of 10.8% compared to the prior year. Additionally, the occupancy rate at Albuquerque hotels and the average daily rate for a hotel room each rose by nearly 6% since the previous year.

Albuquerque’s tourism industry grew faster than the national average, and faster than the average of 10 of Albuquerque’s peer cities, according to Tania Armenta, president and CEO of Visit Albuquerque.

“It is impacting each aspect of our community, and it’s an important economic driver,” Armenta said.

Julia Hawkins is a 103-year-old sprinter competing in the 100 meters at the 2019 National Senior Games in Albuquerque. Hawkins was one of around 13,000 athletes who came to Albuquerque for the June event. (Courtesy National Senior Games)

Tourism is one of Albuquerque’s largest private-sector industries. In July, leisure and hospitality, which includes tourism and tourism-adjacent businesses, employed 48,300 residents in metro Albuquerque, according to the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions.

Sarita Nair, chief administrative officer for the city of Albuquerque, called tourism one of six key pillars of Albuquerque’s economy.

“Tourism is a bright spot in the New Mexico economy and in the Albuquerque economy,” Nair said during the meeting.

Armenta attributed the industry growth to a variety of factors, including a mix of public and private improvements years in the making. The Albuquerque Convention Center went through a $25 million renovation, and nearby Civic Plaza underwent a facelift in 2018.

Armenta said these improvements helped lure significantly more convention visitors than in recent years. The National Senior Games brought more than 13,000 athletes, along with their families, to Albuquerque in June. Armenta also pointed to American Booksellers Association conference in January, and the Society for American Archaeology’s annual meeting in April, as key events for the city.

Overall, the number of overnight stays from meetings, conventions and sporting events increased by more than 26% last year, according to Visit Albuquerque.

“It’s been a strong year for conventions,” Armenta said.

Armenta also credited recent private-sector development, including Hotel Chaco opening north of Old Town and the Turquoise Museum moving to Gertrude Zachary Castle, for helping the city appeal to visitors.

Visit Albuquerque reported that occupancy rates throughout the city rose by 5.8% during the last fiscal year, and the average daily rate at hotels rose by 5.9%, thanks in part to an improving local economy. The Albuquerque International Sunport welcomed around 3% more visitors during the same period.

“People are really paying attention to the growth that’s happening in Albuquerque,” Armenta said during the meeting.

Looking ahead, Kristin McGrath, vice president of sales, services and sports for Visit Albuquerque, said the organization wants to build on its success in 2020. One particular area of focus is attracting amateur sporting events. Armenta added that Albuquerque’s success hosting the National Senior Games has helped put the city on the map for other organizations looking to house sporting events.

“We’re definitely going to maximize that opportunity,” Armenta said.

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