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Expecting better days ahead, city to launch ad

After a long, hard year filled with illness, business closures and mandatory quarantines, there are a few small signs that life is gradually returning to normal in New Mexico.

COVID-19 cases are down across the state, visitors are no longer required to quarantine for 14 days, and travel into and out of the Albuquerque International Sunport is up in recent weeks.

“Data is telling us that we’re moving into a recovery phase,” said Synthia Jaramillo, the city of Albuquerque’s economic development director.

With all that in mind, the city is trying to take advantage, allocating $1.5 million to help advertise to workers who might be looking for places to stay temporarily and work remotely.

Passengers walk past the Sundancer Trading Co. store at the Albuquerque International Sunport on March 23.(Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Journal)

Jaramillo said the effort is designed to complement Albuquerque’s existing attraction efforts and help the city’s hard-hit tourism industry get back on its feet.

“The hospitality sector has been one of Albuquerque’s largest private industries … and has been the hardest hit,” Jaramillo said.

It’s no secret that state and local travel restrictions have been hard on Albuquerque’s previously booming tourism industry. According to the New Mexico Tourism Department, the state has lost about $3.5 billion in visitor spending since the pandemic began, resulting in a loss of approximately $163 million in state and local taxes.

Synthia Jaramillo

Maybe the clearest indicator is the number of people traveling through the Sunport, which saw about 3.6 million fewer passengers in 2020 compared to 2019, according to previous Journal reporting.

In the last few weeks, however, things have gotten a good deal brighter at the Sunport. Airport spokesman Jonathan Small said last week that the Sunport’s most recent seven-day average shows about 7,800 total passengers coming through each day.

It’s still well below the numbers from 2019, but Small said it’s more than twice what the airport saw even as recently as February. After suffering a bigger drop in traffic than most airports last year, Small said the Sunport is back in line with the national average.

“We’ve been seeing some significant increases in recent weeks,” he said.

Jonathan Small

Small said lower infection rates and more people getting vaccinated have coincided with the normal uptick in travel around spring break to bring more visitors to – and from – the Land of Enchantment.

To prepare for an expected uptick in leisure travel, Jaramillo said the city redirected money from its general fund and its aviation department toward advertising and marketing efforts to help attract more visitors.

The details of the program are still being ironed out, but Jaramillo said she wants it to dovetail with the Albuquerque Home for Life campaign, an advertising campaign aimed at luring remote workers and former New Mexico residents to Albuquerque.

The Home for Life campaign launched late in 2020 in Houston, Portland and Los Angeles. Jaramillo said the campaign has since expanded into Dallas, Denver and Phoenix. She said remote workers aren’t just looking at moving to a single city permanently, but are traveling and staying in hotels while they work.

“You hear about remote workers traveling, vacationing and working from hotels,” Jaramillo said. “They have flexibility because they’re able to work on their laptops from anywhere.”

Jaramillo said the city’s Lodgers’ Tax Advisory Board is tasked with developing the plan. No launch date for the tourism advertising has been set, but Jaramillo said the city wants to get things up and running sooner rather than later to help out Albuquerque’s struggling hotels, convention centers and other tourism-related businesses.

“We want to move quickly,” Jaramillo said.

Stephen Hamway covers economic development, health care and tourism for the Journal. He can be reached at shamway@abqjournal.com.

 

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