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New Mexico hotels adjust to new state virus rules

The Blake at Taos Ski Valley. (Courtesy The Blake)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

After a lengthy closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic, The Blake at Taos Ski Valley opened at the beginning of July.

But when Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced a new, more restrictive order the next day, the northern New Mexico resort abruptly changed course.

The Blake said that it would accept reservations only from New Mexico residents and visitors who have spent more than 14 days in the state.

Eduardo Sampere, general manager of The Blake, told the Journal he personally called around 40 out-of-state visitors with reservations to explain the situation and offer a refund.

“It went much better than I thought, to be honest,” Sampere said. “Everyone was very understanding.”

He said the decision was made because resort staffers didn’t feel they could enforce the governor’s new order, which requires visitors traveling to New Mexico to self-isolate for 14 days or their entire stay, whichever is shorter.

While not every New Mexico hotel and resort has decided to stop accepting reservations from out-of-state travelers, they’re each working to comply with the order. For many hotels, it’s just the latest pivot during what has already been an unprecedented summer tourism season.

“We want to make sure that our customers and our employees are safe,” said Adrian Montoya, board president of the Greater Albuquerque Hotel and Lodging Association.

With reported COVID-19 cases rising across New Mexico, Lujan Grisham issued an executive order last week mandating that visitors traveling to New Mexico must self-isolate for 14 days.

In a news conference last week, Lujan Grisham said she hopes travelers from other states find another time to visit the Land of Enchantment and urged the hotel and lodging industry to help by not taking visitors who aren’t willing to self-isolate.

“We want you to come next year … if there’s a vaccine next year,” she said.

At the state level, that means reaching out to high-risk visitors before they arrive.

Cody Johnson, spokesman for the New Mexico Tourism Department, said the agency sent out mailers in cities in Texas and Arizona this month suggesting that visitors review the state’s guidelines before traveling.

Sampere said out-of-state visitors to The Blake have to prove they’ve stayed in New Mexico for more than 14 days. He said the hotel is looking for documents, ranging from prior hotel invoices to gas station receipts, that demonstrate guests have spent sufficient time in the state. But, he said, it’s impossible to prove completely.

“We hope people are honest,” Sampere said.

Still, not every hotel is approaching the order in the same way. Montoya noted that the language in the executive order asks visitors to isolate themselves voluntarily, meaning that hotels are not legally responsible for forcing guests to quarantine.

Heritage Hotels President Adrian Perez, whose company operates a mix of high-end hotels and resorts across New Mexico, said the chain will provide guests with up-to-date information on state health orders to help them make the best decisions but will not be forcing out-of-state visitors to quarantine during their stays.

Perez said the company is concerned that forcing guests to isolate or asking too many questions about where they are traveling from might open the company up to discrimination lawsuits.

“I think everybody wants to remain safe, but we’re not going to infringe on somebody’s civil liberties,” Perez said.

Similarly, Los Poblanos Historic Inn & Organic Farm informs guests of the new restrictions when they’re booking a reservation but has not stopped accepting reservations from out-of-state visitors, according to marketing manager Lauren Kemner.

Each of the hotel managers who spoke with the Journal said they have had cancellations because of the rules.

Sampere said The Blake’s occupancy rate, which was around 40% last July, will likely be less than one-fourth of that this year. Still, he said, staying open has helped the hotel prepare for the much busier winter ski season and has given New Mexico residents a place to travel during a difficult summer.

“We believe that having an opportunity for New Mexicans to come up to the mountains and relax, enjoy and forget about all the stresses that we’re going through is very important,” he said.

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