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Bring back NM tourism in COVID-safe way

The New Mexico economy experiences continuous bust-and-boom cycles dependent on the volatility of the oil and gas industry. Tourism is the second revenue producer in the state and is significantly green and a low-maintenance private industry. Revenue has been on a strong and steady uptick, until 2020. Tourism entities, like lodging establishments, restaurants and cultural attractions, collect revenue and significant taxes from the traveling public from across the globe, bringing new money from outside the state. Visitations, from meetings and conventions, lead to economic development opportunities, job growth and positive media that boosts civic pride.

Tourism is now an injured industry, on life-support. Many businesses have flat-lined or are looking for triage due to the drastic economic restrictions in place. We need help quickly in order to stabilize and recover. As tourism falls behind, so does New Mexico. Other states and cities are poaching meetings, conventions and leisure travelers that would otherwise be here to spend money. Let’s welcome them all back safely by enforcing COVID-safe practices (CSPs) proven to stop the spread: mandatory masks, social distancing and sanitation and hygiene practices endorsed by the World Health Organization and CDC. The industry is committed to protecting New Mexicans.

We have stepped up since the beginning of this pandemic. The hotel industry was quick to adapt in order to fight the virus by embracing new and enhanced brand standards and following the American Hotel & Lodging Association’s Safe Stay protocols for cleanliness and sanitation. Many, if not most, lodging establishments quickly became N.M. Safe Certified and strictly follow CSPs.

The Greater Albuquerque Hotel & Lodging Association proposes a change in economic strategy that includes specific actions required to start the commercial recovery. We suggest a policy of “trust, but verify.” Creating policies that are enforceable is a key to success in fighting the virus. We strongly favor the state and city of Albuquerque working to do just this with the redeployment of workers to verify CSPs are enforced.

We advocate for abolishing the 14-day quarantine policy; it is impossible to enforce and we have not been provided with the data that points to travel as increasing the spread. If a person follows, and a business requires, CSPs, then what does it matter what city, state or country the person calls home?

Allow the safe reintroduction of meetings and social gatherings; separate these from “live events.” Industry leadership submitted CSPs and detailed parameters for safe events this summer. There is evidence that family gatherings have contributed to the surge in the number of cases. If gatherings are held in a controlled setting, such as a hotel, the incidence of spread should diminish. Social fatigue caused by the restrictions contributes to the spread.

We advocate for allowing people to assemble at locales that are N.M. Safe Certified and sending enforcement teams out to monitor as needed. Industry has already provided potential CSPs for starting with groups of 50 people. Start with safe holiday gatherings.

The two changes will start the economic recovery. The public is still traveling and wants to gather for events safely. The current restrictions are eroding gross receipts and lodgers’ tax revenues at unprecedented rates. Other states are capturing group business that we cannot accommodate under current restrictions. This puts us at a great disadvantage of losing market share now and in the future and moves the recovery back even further.

WHO expressed that the neglect of the economy is no longer a viable solution to eliminating the virus and is perversely causing more harm to economies and people’s lives.

We applaud the governor’s recent announcement for a $25 million special appropriation for tourism, acknowledging that tourism will be the fastest route to recovery here. The time to get started welcoming visitors back is now. We stand ready to help stop the spread with CSPs and to resuscitate the economy.

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