Destinations

How Albuquerque Tourism Learned to Love ‘Breaking Bad’

Dec 06, 2013 9:20 am

Frank Ockenfels  / AMC

This publicity image released by AMC shows Dean Norris as Hank Schrader, left, and Bryan Cranston as Walter White in "Breaking Bad." Frank Ockenfels / AMC


“Breaking Bad” is one of the most popular and critically acclaimed televisions shows in recent memory. The series culminated with a 10.3 million viewers, not counting the millions more who watched it on streaming services such as Netflix and DVDs.

This is despite, or perhaps due to, the dark subject matter. The series follows a high school chemistry teacher who begins manufacturing methamphetamine to pay for his own cancer treatment. He continues his life of crime even after his cancer goes into remission. He kills numerous people and ruins the lives of his loved ones in the process.

At first, residents of Albuquerque, New Mexico, where the series is set, were unhappy about the dark, violent spotlight shining on their town. Yet this often disturbing show has been an enormous boon to the city’s tourism economy. The city’s destination marketing organization admits that it was taken by surprise by the sudden popularity and tourism interest.

“Once we heard the topic, we thought this is probably not something we will be too thrilled about,” says Megan Mayo Ryan of the Albuquerque Convention & Visitors Bureau.

“We just let it happen, and didn’t connect to it from a tourism perspective until the third season. We started getting nice recognition when the show started getting awards and it started getting Albuquerque into the conversation.”

The show’s creator, Vince Gilligan, admits that the show was originally conceived to take place in Riverside, Calif., but New Mexico’s film and television subsidies were too good to pass up. Rather than use Albuquerque as a stand-in for Riverside, he wrote the city into the show. “Breaking Bad” showcased the area’s natural beauty.

“In our opinion, they did a great job of capturing the beauty of New Mexico from the beginning. When the characters were out in the west mesa making drugs, you see this beautiful vista of amazing clouds, blue sky, and beautiful sunsets in that vast expanse of the high desert,” Mayor Ryan said. “That played into the intrigue for people that never thought about New Mexico. People don’t really have an impression about Albuquerque, but we are seeing them come and see the filming locations and then do several other things around town.”

Albuquerque’s film tourism push surrounding Breaking Bad was a grassroots effort at first. The Albuquerque Trolley Company started giving weekly tours of filming locations that usually sell out. The Candy Lady, a local confectioner, offered tours of locations by limo. For the first two seasons, the candy shop made the “blue meth” as props for the show. So far, it has sold tourists 35,000 bags of the candy to tourists for $1 each. Sales of the fake drug jumped after Bryan Cranston, who plays Breaking Bad’s main character handed one to David Letterman on national television.

The tourism board now prominently features film tourism and Breaking Bad on their website with an interactive map of filming locations and traditional tourist attractions.

The show’s stars, some of whom bought homes and lived in the city, also promote the city for free. Cranston sang the city’s praises to Reddit users and Gilligan touted the city’s natural landscape and art galleries in the New York Times.

The Albuquerque Visitor Bureau’s microsite for Breaking Bad-related tourism is the biggest source of traffic besides the primary website’s landing page.

The first four pages of the 29-page report, including Table of Contents, are embedded below:

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