For most of 2020, New Mexico True advertising content was more about staying away from the state than visiting it.
As COVID-19 wrought its ugly course, and state officials clamped down with restrictive health orders that remain a long way from changing, the state’s tourism department didn’t just languish, it imploded.
Estimates show 20% of the 100,000 leisure and hospitality workers in New Mexico are unemployed, said tourism secretary Jen Paul Schroer.
But with vaccines slowly making inroads here and across the country, it is time that the state’s tourism department begins planning for the inevitable bust out when people are once again free to roam the country.
“Consumers have choices of where they’re going to make their dream post-pandemic vacation destination and New Mexico deserves to compete,” she said.
To do that, the state is preparing to inundate the internet — as well as various travel media across the country — with a series of virtual tours highlighting the state’s best and brightest tourist destinations as well as New Mexico’s scenic wonders.
“What we did, we viewed a lot of the popular tourist attractions, for the outdoor economy, our New Mexico gems and we look at how we tell New Mexico stories,” Schroer said. “We want to inspire future trips. We know that there are people right now on Google or Pinterest looking to building a trip.
“So we need to elevate New Mexico’s digital footprint. We took a very disciplined approach of what we have from outdoor economy standpoint.”
The plan has hit something of a snag as a $25 million appropriation that Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham proposed for the tourism department to fund the sweeping media blitz did not make it past the legislative House Appropriations and Finance Committee.
“(The) Tourism Department was not clear on the R (return on investment) for the $25 million one-time request,” said Rep. Patricia Lundstrom, D-Gallup, chairwoman of the House Appropriations and Finance Committee. “There are many competing needs for the state’s limited resources, and it’s difficult to consider appropriations unless we know what they’re for.”
Still, 44 tourist destinations already have undergone a virtual makeover using the department’s current budget, including virtual tours and Google Street View, enhancing destination presence and further optimizing Google’s travel planning products to assist with awareness of tourism businesses throughout New Mexico.
For instance, the state did two separate pieces on Red River.
“It’s super important,” said April Ralph, Red River tourism director. “It’s important to get back in the flow and with the state on all of this stuff. They have been really trying to make sure we’re all ready to go when we open up. It’s been hard for all of us. It’s killing all of us, especially the little towns like Red River. We’re so tourism-based so we appreciate anything they do. The more you can follow on their coattails, the better.”
Now tourism department production teams are in the process of identifying another up to 50 locations for new content creation. A production team will capture professional-grade immersive media in the form of 360-degree photography that will let the true beauty of New Mexico’s grand and sweeping vistas emerge and entice.
The production teams are currently culling the proposed sites of more than 200 that is literally an A to Y list going from the Aden Lava Flow Wilderness Study Area, southwest of Las Cruces, to the Yost Draw along the El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro.
“We have such a rich story and authenticity in New Mexico,” Schroer said. “Story telling begins with consumers seeking info online. The work we’re doing now, making New Mexico as beautiful as possible and intriguing as possible, will help convert those into future trips.”