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Coming off a uniquely challenging year, Albuquerque’s hotel and lodging industry is pushing to add a small fee to room rates that help the city better take advantage of a potential influx of tourists.
“I believe we do a fantastic job marketing the city, but every dollar counts,” said Adrian Montoya, board president of the Greater Albuquerque Hotel and Lodging Association, which includes around 40 hoteliers.
Visit Albuquerque, with support from several large hoteliers around the city, is spearheading the effort to establish a tourism marketing district, which would add a 2% assessment to room rates within the city limits.
Visit Albuquerque president and CEO Tania Armenta said that money would then go toward expanded marketing efforts that help Albuquerque compete for leisure travelers looking to travel again after a wave of restrictions triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s very much a game-changer for us,” Armenta said. “It will allow us to compete in a highly competitive environment.”
Tourism has been among the industries hit hardest by the pandemic. But even before the pandemic began, Armenta said the city’s budget for tourism promotion was smaller than that in many peer cities.
Similarly-sized cities in the region, like Tucson, Arizona, and Tulsa, Oklahoma, each had at least $4 million more to spend on tourism marketing, according to data provided by the organization. Even Santa Fe, with a population less than 20% of Albuquerque’s, had a larger tourism budget, Armenta said.
Armenta added that as lodgers tax receipts have increased over the past decade, Visit Albuquerque’s budget hasn’t kept pace.
“Visit Albuquerque has been under-funded in comparison to our competition for a number of years,” she said.
The organization sees the development of a tourism marketing district as a way to offset that imbalance.
Around 184 cities and other communities have established similar tourism marketing districts. Also known as tourism improvement districts, they allow all the hotels and other lodging facilities to agree to add an assessment to fund other programs.
In Albuquerque, the program would cover more than 150 hotels, motels and other lodging facilities within city limits, but wouldn’t extend to short-term rentals initially. Armenta said she’s hopeful AirBNBs and other short-term rentals will eventually be included in the district.
Visit Albuquerque projected that the district would raise $4.8 million based on pre-pandemic visitation figures, but Armenta acknowledged that the number of visitors may not return to that level immediately.
“There’s still some uncertainty around overall travel behavior,” Armenta said.
More than three-quarters of the funding would be allocated to “sales, marketing and communications,” according to Visit Albuquerque’s budget. Armenta said the funds may be used to expand existing digital marketing and television advertising efforts, with a focus on leisure travelers in particular.
“That’s the area that we have a significant opportunity for growth,” Armenta said.
The assessment would mean an increase to room rates, but Armenta said rates in the city would still have fewer fees than many of Albuquerque’s competitors. Data from Visit Albuquerque shows that Albuquerque has the second-lowest fee rate among 12 cities it competes with, above only Phoenix. Adding a 2% assessment pushes Albuquerque into the middle of the pack, according to the data.
“It’s still a great value for the money,” said Jim Long, founder and CEO of Heritage Hotels & Resorts and a supporter of the district.
Long added that he believes the time is right to pursue this.
“You’ve got to be aggressive right now,” he said. “New Mexico is an attractive destination, but we need to let the world know that it is an attractive destination.”
Montoya said GAHLA is in full support of the district, citing the need to regain the city’s pre-pandemic momentum and let visitors know about Albuquerque’s cultural offerings.
“If you’re not able to tell that story, people aren’t going to come,” Montoya said. “We have to continue to tell that story, and to tell that story costs a little bit of money.”
Armenta said Visit Albuquerque is trying to get hoteliers to sign a petition supporting creation of the district. If at least 51% agree, the petition will be presented to City Council to appoint a planning group and adopt an ordinance to create the district.
“We could start collecting dollars late this summer,” Armenta said.