_copyright”>By stephen hamway
Journal Staff Writer
New Mexico's tourism economy is growing quickly, and the state tourism office has launched a year-long effort to guide that growth over the next decade.
“Growth happens two ways: either it happens organically, or you do it intentionally,” said Jen Paul Schroer, cabinet secretary for the New Mexico Tourism Department. “And when it happens organically, things might happen that your communities don't want.”
The state tourism department held a workshop this week in Rio Rancho for local tourism organizations and business owners to share their hopes and concerns about the state's tourism industry.
The event was the last of six stops across the state, designed to solicit feedback that will help shape the tourism department's “destination development roadmap,” a sweeping effort designed to guide all aspects of the state's tourism industry over the next 10 years, from streets to trail signage.
State tourism humming
State tourism is humming at the moment. In 2017, the most recent full year that the state has data available, the industry contributed $6.6 billion statewide and employed 70,568 New Mexicans, according to the agency's annual report. Schroer added that overnight visits to New Mexico grew 79% more quickly than the national average.
Still, there's always room for improvement. Colin Stoetzel, associate principle for the Coraggio Group, a Portland, Oregon-based consulting firm working with the New Mexico Tourism Department on the roadmap, said the average household income of visitors skews lower than it does in neighboring states, which indicates that visitors may be spending less money in New Mexico than in Arizona, Colorado and Utah.
Stoetzel attributed the disparity to a relative shortage of inbound flights into New Mexico.
“You're not a huge fly market, you're more of a road trip market,” Stoetzel told the crowd in Rio Rancho.
While Schroer noted that New Mexico's tourism destinations are largely not at capacity, the department wants to be mindful of making sure the industry doesn't put too much strain on its most popular places.
“By being proactive and identifying where that limited capacity is, we'll be able to manage it so we don't have problems in the future,” she said.
Rather than focusing on specific metrics, Schroer said she wants the roadmap to address a wide variety of assets and challenges, from visitor experience to capacity at national parks, while responding to concerns from business owners and local tourism officials.
The attendees at the presentation broke into groups to discuss challenges and opportunities, and how those can evolve over the next decade. Common concerns that emerged were poor road infrastructure and a lack of communication between areas of the state.
The Coraggio Group's Beau Bennett said the planning process will continue through the winter. He said the plan will be finalized in February and released publicly in March.