Albuquerque’s hard-hit tourism industry is hopeful about a significant bounce-back in 2021, but a full recovery may still be years away.
During Visit Albuquerque’s annual meeting Tuesday, held via Zoom, organization president Tania Armenta provided an update on the challenges the city’s tourism industry has faced in 2020, as well as a potential path to recovery in 2021 and beyond.
During the meeting, Armenta said travel spending nationwide is expected to spike next year after dropping 44% in 2020 due to the pandemic and other restrictions, though some experts believe it may not fully recover until 2024. The key, Armenta said, is making sure Albuquerque is well-positioned to compete for business that was postponed due to the pandemic.
“We want to make sure we have Albuquerque out there in the forefront,” she said.
Prior to 2020, Albuquerque’s tourism industry was humming. In 2019, Albuquerque ranked in the top 10 markets for occupancy and revenue growth for hotels. But industries were affected more by the pandemic and associated restrictions. Armenta said New Mexico air travel, as measured by volume at airport checkpoints, declined 78% year-over-year in July – among the worst drops of any state over that time period.
As of August, employment in Albuquerque’s leisure and hospitality sector – which includes tourism – had lost 11,300 jobs year-over-year, nearly 25% of the total leisure and hospitality jobs in the city.
“Almost everyone on this call knows someone who has been affected by a layoff or a furlough,” Armenta said.
With interstate travel limited, Visit Albuquerque focused over the summer on encouraging New Mexicans to have staycations instead. The organization put together a series of banner ads asking locals to rediscover local attractions like the Sandia Peak Tramway.
“The idea is to really encourage people to be a visitor in their own city,” Armenta said
After restrictions began to ease in September, Armenta said the organization began to expand its focus to neighboring states with a series of ads on travel websites like Expedia and Travelocity.
At the meeting, Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller said the pandemic could ultimately leave Albuquerque’s tourism industry in a more competitive position. He said the city’s COVID-19 infection rate – low compared to cities like Denver and Phoenix – combined with existing benefits like a lower cost of living. could help the city attract visitors if the virus lingers.
“I think, interestingly, there is a very, very compelling path for Albuquerque,” Keller said.
Armenta said the tourism industry is unlikely to fully recover in 2021, but said she’s encouraged by surveys showing about half of travelers feel comfortable traveling outside their communities.
With many conventions and other events being rescheduled for 2021, Armenta said the city will have to compete against peer cities to return to normal.
“The path to recovery is not going to be a straight line,” Armenta said.