When the Southwest Airlines’ promotional email landed in more than 16 million inboxes Oct. 1, it contained more than the standard travel deal announcements.

The message also featured a hot-air balloon photo — emblazoned with the words “New Mexico True” — and a link to a special Web page where customers could learn more about New Mexico and book a Southwest flight into the Albuquerque International Sunport.

It’s part of a new 10-month marketing partnership between the New Mexico Tourism Department and Southwest, the airline responsible for more than half of the Sunport’s passenger traffic.

The state is paying more than $600,000 for the chance to reach Southwest’s customers “at the most ideal time — at the point of consideration and conversion,” according to tourism spokeswoman Jolene Mauer.

The agreement — dubbed “True Luv” — began in September and runs through June. It’s projected to deliver 100 million New Mexico-focused messages to air travelers. Messages will come via Web, email and perhaps even social-media channels.

Some of the digital display and video ads will reach a national audience — “something we wouldn’t otherwise be able to do with our non-Texas-sized budget,” Mauer said — but media targeting tactics also will zero in on the customers most likely to choose Albuquerque based on geography, behavior and other criteria.

They include travelers in the state’s key fly-in markets (such as Dallas and Chicago) and those searching for flights to competing destinations (such as Phoenix and Denver).

Southwest spokeswoman Michelle Agnew described the program as a “consistent, steady campaign that informs, influences and inspires — delivered to the most relevant audience at the most appropriate time.”

The partnership carries forth the “New Mexico True” message, a campaign initiated under Tourism Secretary Monique Jacobson. Ads used for the Southwest partnership highlight skiing, food, Native American culture and more.

During certain promotional windows, Mauer said Southwest will bolster the effort by offering certain customers a chance to earn extra frequent-flier points by booking a flight to Albuquerque.

The Oct. 1 message — the first mass email executed as part of the agreement — resulted in 18,000 hits to a specific online “landing page” (www.southwest.com/newmexico), where travelers can see photos and videos of New Mexico, as well as book flights into Albuquerque. ___

Photo Credit: A screenshot from the "New Mexico True" tourism campaign. New Mexico Tourism