NM tourism leaders seek $55M from lawmakers to help struggling industry - Albuquerque Journal

NM tourism leaders seek $55M from lawmakers to help struggling industry

A snowboarder catches air on a jump at Ski Santa Fe in 2019. New Mexico’s ski industry saw a 35% decline last year, part of a larger downturn in the state’s tourism industry. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

New Mexico tourism leaders are requesting $55 million from lawmakers during the special legislative session to help reinvest in the beleaguered industry.

During a joint news conference at the Albuquerque Convention Center Monday, leaders from different parts of the industry, including Ski New Mexico and the New Mexico Restaurant Association, came together in support of the funding proposal and called on legislators to support the struggling industry.

“If we don’t rebuild the tourism industry quickly, that has a long-term impact on New Mexico’s economy as a whole,” said Kathy Komoll, CEO of the New Mexico Hospitality Association.

New Mexico’s tourism industry, previously the state’s largest private-sector industry, continues to be hit harder than most by the COVID-19 pandemic and associated restrictions. Tania Armenta, president and CEO of Visit Albuquerque, said the organization was able to re-book just 28% of the conventions and events slated to take place since the pandemic began, costing the city millions of dollars in lost revenue during that period. Overall, the state lost about $4.3 billion in visitor spending in 2020.

George Brooks, executive director of Ski New Mexico, added that New Mexico’s ski industry saw a 35% decline in visitation last year, compared to 12% uptick nationwide.

“We went down, everybody else went up,” Brooks said.

The group’s proposal would allocate $55 million from the federal American Rescue Plan Act toward marketing, workforce development and other efforts designed to help the tourism industry. Of that, $25 million would be allocated to the New Mexico Tourism Department to help promote the industry during the winter and spring. Armenta said Albuquerque and New Mexico are competing against other communities that are spending aggressively to lure events and other sources of tourism spending.

“This is a highly competitive environment,” she said.

Under the proposal, an additional $30 million would be used to improve training and recruitment efforts within the industry. While the leisure and hospitality sector has recovered somewhat since 2020, employment remains around 12% below where it stood 24 months ago, according to data from the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions. Imesh Vaidya, past regional director for Asian American Hotel Owners Association, said New Mexico hospitality employers have had to cut back on services that help attract visitors, which hurts the state’s competitiveness.

“If travelers are not getting the experience in New Mexico that they could somewhere else, especially in our neighboring states, that’s going to affect us in the long term,” Vaidya said.

Carol Wight, CEO of the New Mexico Restaurant Association, said the funding would expand a partnership with DWS that provides reimbursements for tourism industry employers trying to train staff. It would also expand the industry’s ProStart Program, which teaches high school juniors and seniors culinary and management skills to prepare them for the industry, to high schools across the state.

Taken together, Wight said these proposals would help rebuild the employment pipeline for the industry.

“The resources needed to get our industry back on track are here in the state, and we ask our leaders in Santa Fe to support recovery funding for the hospitality industry,” Wight said.

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