State tourism department closing half its visitor centers - Albuquerque Journal

State tourism department closing half its visitor centers

The New Mexico Tourism Department is yanking the welcome mat at half of the visitor centers it operates around the state, citing declines in usage.

The Raton, Chama, Anthony and La Bajada centers are set to close at the end of the day Oct. 7, resulting in the loss of nine jobs and an annual cost savings of $556,342. Officials, however, are hopeful that local communities in those areas will find a way to continue the services with their own staffs.

Gov. Susana Martinez recently directed all state agencies under her purview to reduce spending by 5 percent as part of the state’s current budget crisis, which would mean about $678,000 for the Tourism Department. Cabinet Secretary Rebecca Latham said budgetary considerations played a role in the decision, but the center closures had been under consideration “for some time.” A total of 595,249 visited the eight centers in 2015, which is down 52 percent from 2009, according to the state.

The four locations being closed averaged 20,000 visitors per year, the state said.

It’s “something that we’ve been thinking about for a long time, and the overall budget situation just gave us the timing,” Latham said of the move. “It made sense.”

The New Mexico Department of Transportation will continue running the traveler rest areas at the Anthony and La Bajada locations.

The centers the Tourism Department will keep open are in Lordsburg, Glenrio, Manuelito and Santa Fe.

Most people stop at the facilities to use their public restrooms, Latham said. Fewer rely on them for information anymore since many travelers look to the internet for driving directions or restaurant recommendations.

“Overall that’s the real struggle across the country, is people are just able to go to Yelp and find where they should have a good cheeseburger,” she said.

Latham said other states have started moving away from a state-funded model and relied on partnerships with local communities to operate visitor centers. At the Anthony and La Bajada locations, for example, the state could provide the space if another agency provided employees or volunteers.

“(A) public-private partnership is something that’s really working well in many states for tourism marketing,” she said.

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