New Mexico's actions may just serve as a model for other states on the tourism front.
The Santa Fe Plaza is empty. So are the narrow streets of the adobe-laden historic district in the heart of Albuquerque. The ski lifts are idle, the galleries are shuttered, and the fate of the summer art market season is uncertain.
New Mexico Cabinet Secretary for Tourism Jen Schroer warned Friday the state’s tourism industry will continue to suffer amid COVID-19 restrictions and vowed the state will do what it can to help hotels, tourist spots, and businesses recover once restrictions are lifted.
Schroer also announced Friday the state has canceled its spring national campaign and will scrap all upcoming events related to certain tourism events.
Without giving many details, Schroer said during a webinar that tourism businesses could start preparing for recovery through state and federal programs. She mentioned that a few grants that are available. “New Mexico’s tourism industry will come roaring back,” she said. “But we need to start now.”
Since Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and other governors began adopting restrictions aimed at reducing the spread of the coronavirus, attendance at many popular tourist destinations has dropped to nearly zero. The state’s largest airport, Sunport International in Albuquerque, has seen its traffic reduced by 90%.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.
Hotels can stay open but can’t exceed 50% occupancy, under state restrictions. And all non-essential businesses not related to industries like health care, media, or food production have been ordered closed. That has led to layoffs of workers connected to hotels, spas, casinos, breweries, and restaurants.
The U.S Department of Labor said last week more than 17,000 people in the state applied for unemployment insurance — a stunning 1,877% jump from the week before.
Schroer said hotels could exceed their 50% occupancy restrictions if they offered rooms to certain health care workers.
The drop in tourism comes after the state has seen years of growth.
In 2018, officials announced that the state’s tourism industry in 2017 injected $6.6 billion into the economy. That was a 3.2% increase over 2016, or $200 million more, and the largest in state history.
Former Gov. Susana Martinez has credited the “New Mexico True” campaign for “record-breaking” tourism during her eight years in office.
Created in 2012, the initial $2 million tourism campaign featured colorful images of families in New Mexico kayaking, mountain climbing, and making pottery. The state has spent more than $60 million since 2012 promoting the state’s popular tourist attractions on billboards and in commercials in Texas, Arizona, New York, and Illinois.
The campaign refers visitors to tagged New Mexico photos on social media with the #NewMexicoTrue hashtag.
In addition to highlighting famous sites like White Sands National Monument and Taos Pueblo, the brand focuses on tourist experiences like the Breakfast Burrito Byway, a list of restaurants that serve New Mexican cuisine-style breakfast burritos, and exploring the famous path of outlaw Billy the Kid.
Photo credit: A scene from a recent New Mexico marketing campaign that has not been put on hold due to coronavirus. David Zalubowski / Associated Press