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One-on-One with Tania Armenta

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Tania Armenta might eventually wake each day to the sound of seagulls and lapping

waves.

The water has always beckoned her, she says, and she often imagines a life lived at the beach where she could boat, water ski and snorkel to her heart’s content.

Just not now. And probably not any time soon, either.

No matter how strong the water’s call, it has yet to supplant Armenta’s zeal for landlocked New Mexico.

As president and CEO of the Albuquerque Convention & Visitors Bureau, she makes a living extolling the Duke City. But the enthusiasm is sincere. In fact, she says, as opportunities to do similar work for other cities have arisen through the years, she’s made the conscious decision to stay put.

“This is home to me,” she says from her sixth-floor Downtown office.

Raised in Bloomfield – where she spent her early years on the rodeo scene before devoting herself to her high school’s award-winning Kit Cats dance team – she moved to Albuquerque not long after graduating from University of Nebraska. She took a job at the ACVB, not necessarily realizing she had launched a full-fledged career selling Albuquerque as a destination for meetings and tourists. But she kept climbing, formally taking the reins at the 40-person organization earlier this year.

“I really thought this was probably a stepping stone to someplace else. But, as my career has evolved here, I definitely aspired to serve as the CEO here, which is different – a lot of destination marketers move to different locations,” she says. “For me, it’s always been if I’m going to be a CEO of a destination marketing organization, the only one that was a natural fit for me was the Albuquerque CVB.”

Q: Describe yourself as a teenager.

A: I was a very active and involved student. I wouldn’t say I worked overly hard at school. Things came somewhat naturally to me, but I wasn’t the most driven student, either. Just very involved and very social. Played some sports and, come high school, I was really active in my dance team.

Q: What were your interests growing up?

A: We grew up early … on a small ranch, so I grew up with animals and I rodeoed as a small child – barrel raced, and roped and tied goats. (My) early days (were) spent very much in a rural, western life. Then I kind of phased out of that as I started to play sports in junior high. Especially as I became active on the dance team, I really phased out of that, and became much more of an athlete and a dancer.

Q: How much do you dance now?

A: I love to dance. I really do. (It’s) a good way to blow off some steam. But when my 14-year-old daughter is watching, she’s not a big fan (laughs), so never while she’s watching. Rarely while she’s watching.

Q: What was your first job?

A: Because I have a western ranch and farm background, my first official job was my friend and I – her family ran a team roping (event) – we used to work taking the ropes off the steers at the end of the arena. We got paid, and we used to actually save our money and come on a shopping spree to Albuquerque. I remember eating at the High Finance, riding the tram up and, as a young child, having steak Diane at the High Finance as we were spending our money. … My high school summer jobs (were) working for the oil and gas company that my grandfather worked for many years. It was my first official office job for several summers and a great learning opportunity.

Q: Are you still around horses anymore?

A: (I have) good friends who are still really active in that, but I would say, no, very much living the city life. I mean, when I go back to Bloomfield, of course, that’s such an important part of that community.

Q: How many pairs of cowboy boots do you have?

A: Currently? Maybe four.

Q: How did you end up at University of Nebraska?

A: I initially started college at Kilgore College in Texas. I went there for my freshman year on a presidential scholarship and then I transferred. My husband, who was my boyfriend at the time, went to University of Nebraska on a baseball scholarship. He is from Bloomfield, as well; we had dated in high school and stayed dating, a long-distance relationship, in the first year of college and I was kind of done (with Kilgore). I was ready to either come back home and go to school at New Mexico State or go to UNM and then I started looking into school (at Nebraska) and convinced my parents (to approve). It was before tuition laws changed, so I could go to school and get in-state tuition pretty quickly, and they had a really strong mass communications and journalism program there.

Q: What were your career goals when you went to University of Nebraska?

A: I flip-flopped (throughout) that kind of journalism, mass communications (area). I thought about being a broadcast journalist for a while and then I quickly turned to more of the marketing angle – an advertising firm, public relations agency, those types of things are kind of where I then focused. I was also intrigued by sports marketing just because I have such a love of sports. I actually did an internship working for the Omaha Royals, the Triple-A baseball team there.

Q: Where did you end up after graduating?

A: I went from graduation to an internship with the Omaha Royals initially. And then I went to a new internship with a company called Sandhill Publishing, which publishes a number of different magazines. At the time, I worked for a computer magazine called PC Today and so my first formal job was working for that magazine publishing firm. I did the computer trade show circuit, and went to COMDEX and marketed for that computer magazine.

Q: What brought you back to New Mexico?

A: My husband and I both are native New Mexicans and I think, as much as we loved the Midwest, we were drawn back to New Mexico for both the climate – didn’t love the Nebraska winters – and wanting to be closer to family.

Q: How do you think Albuquerque’s reputation has evolved since you joined ACVB in 1999?

A: I think we’ve really become a destination in and of itself. … As I look (back) at my first introduction in the late ’90s (and) fast-forward to today, Albuquerque is very much viewed as a strong tourism destination, and it’s something that’s not always recognized by our locals. That’s something I would like to improve. There’s a misconception that everybody gets off a plane and heads to Santa Fe or Taos. There’s just not a recognition of the massive and thriving Albuquerque tourism industry. As I look at the evolution of the organization (and) at the evolution of the industry, it has been the opportunity to seize Albuquerque’s place as a much stronger and viable tourism and convention destination.

Q: What is the most common misconception you’ve encountered while talking to outsiders about Albuquerque?

A: That it has the same climate as Phoenix. I think most people believe New Mexico has the exact same climate as southern Arizona, Phoenix and Tucson, and (is) dry and flat.

Q: You have one sentence to convince a traveler to make Albuquerque their next vacation destination. What would you say?

A: One sentence is tough. I’d start out by saying this is just not a been-there, done-that city. Everything about this place is different and there’s not too many places that can say that any more, especially metropolitan destinations.

Q: What do you want to do moving forward as president and CEO of ACVB?

A: This is a new era for this organization and, in keeping with that, just taking a look overall at our approach to destination marketing and sales, and continuing to refine that, make sure that it keeps us in a very competitive environment at a national level. It’s looking at all elements of our approach as an organization, and refining those and rethinking some of them in terms of looking very strongly at the data, and where can we refine and improve our success.

Q: How would you describe yourself as a boss?

A: I am a combination of decisive and collaborative.

Q: Are you maybe a different kind of CEO since you’ve worked so many of the positions here?

A: I think so, and … I would count myself as very perceptive, so I often think of things from varying perspectives when making decisions. … I have a strong intuition as to what I believe the right answer is, but I will often seek input to validate that and also to make sure I’m not looking at it too narrowly.

Q: What are your pet peeves?

A: As you might imagine, I really dislike the locals that do not fully appreciate Albuquerque. I often wonder, when someone has an option to live somewhere else but has selected Albuquerque, why they’re not a better ambassador and advocate for the city. And that doesn’t mean to overlook the challenges that this city has, but to just get in, get fully involved to make it a better place – to celebrate what’s so wonderful about the city right now, but to work hard to make it a better place. I don’t do well with negativity overall. Whether they’re negative about Albuquerque or negative about life in general, I tend to like the more positive outlook.

Q: What is one food you can’t live without?

A: Green chile. I really love green chile, and I love a good Italian meal, too.

Q: Do you have any hidden talents?

A: I have a pretty good memory, so that often comes in handy. And, being a dancer, I have good rhythm and flexibility.

Q: What was your last splurge?

A: I’m a sucker for accessories, so I will splurge on shoes, handbags and jewelry.

Q: What would you do with an extra hour every day?

A: Catch up on email. That’s a bummer. Email is the bane of our existence. I’d like to read more, so I’m trying to spend more time reading.

Q: How would you describe yourself in three words?

A: I have a lot of grit. … (That) seems to describe me well in terms of passion and perseverance. … Then add perceptive and earnest.

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