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A record ’19 shows tourism can rebound

Massive formations can be found in the Big Room at Carlsbad Caverns National Park.   (Susan Bryan Montoya/Associated Press)

Massive formations can be found in the Big Room at Carlsbad Caverns National Park. (Susan Bryan Montoya/Associated Press)

“Thank you” does not begin to express my gratitude for our state’s tourism professionals’ optimism and fortitude during this economically devastating pandemic. New Mexico’s economy relies heavily on two private-sector industries – oil and gas, and tourism. Tourism grows the middle class – the small businesses, the mom-and-pops, the hospitality workers who provide localized experiences and keep New Mexico True. Together we’ve grown it like never before.

Each year at this time the Tourism Department shares its annual economic impact study from the previous year. We celebrate industry economic achievements and gains as a statewide employer and career builder. This year the celebration is subdued, poignant even, but no less important.

As seen from the mesa above Chaco Canyon, Chetro Ketl's three grand kivas form nearly perfect circles. (Glen Rosales/For the Journal)

As seen from the mesa above Chaco Canyon, Chetro Ketl’s three grand kivas form nearly perfect circles. (Glen Rosales/For the Journal)

2019 was a year of record-breaking success. Reviewing the results now, in the midst of a pandemic, likely awakens longing to welcome and embrace visitors – not because it’s our job but because this is our passion. So we share these results in the spirit of success and authenticity that defines our tourism professionals, and underscores our commitment to restoring economic vitality.

Take pride in knowing that you made 2019 the ninth record-breaking year for our industry:

• $7.4 billion in visitor spending in an unprecedented 5% increase from previous year.

• Over $1 billion increase in visitor spending since 2015.

• 6,064 jobs sustained by visitors to New Mexico – 8.6% of all New Mexican jobs.

• 72,537 direct and 23,527 indirect and induced jobs supported by tourism.

• $1.5 billion in tax revenue generated.

• $737 million in revenue accruing to state and local governments.

• 37.4 million trips to New Mexico – the highest number of visits we’ve ever welcomed.

Despite this strong foundation, the COVID-19 pandemic has severely damaged the tourism industry in New Mexico. Average visitor spending has dropped $403 million each month, according to Tourism Economics. Cumulative loss of revenue exceeded $2 billion from March through July, resulting in over $22 million in lost local GRT and over $82 million in lost state GRT. Many have experienced firsthand temporary and permanent staff reduction; this may even be your reality. As of August, there are nearly 24,000 unemployed workers from the accommodations and food services sector, costing a cumulative total of $271 million in unemployment benefits. All told, the total 2020 projected cost to the state in lost visitor spending, taxes and unemployment benefits is $4.3 billion.

The losses are daunting. Yet there is reason to be hopeful. Economists categorize tourism as an elastic industry. With concerted strategic efforts, New Mexico tourism can come back stronger than ever. Together, we can shape a historic recovery that restores industry revenue and bolsters our state economy.

Following the 2008 financial crisis, the tourism industry took four years to regain its pre-recession growth trajectory. Experts at the U.S. Travel Association project the COVID-19 recovery could take longer – up to seven years here in New Mexico, depending on unique local factors and level of marketing investment.

So where does that leave us? Understandably stunned, anxious and discouraged. But never alone. History proves that New Mexico’s tourism industry will come back. So take heart, and take a deep breath as we pick ourselves up and find a way to inspire locals and visitors. Just like we always have.

The New Mexico Tourism Department pledges to stand with you as we navigate the next chapter – together. We share challenging forecasts and reports not to discourage you, but to honestly reveal the tough journey we face today, tomorrow, and for the foreseeable future.

As a next step, I invite you to join us online for The Future of Tourism Summit on Tuesday, Oct. 6. This full-day, solution-focused virtual summit will bring together decision-makers and tourism industry thought leaders to explore how we can work together to position New Mexico for a strong recovery through tourism.

Let’s plan. Let’s create. Let’s dream. And let’s rebuild New Mexico tourism together.

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