The New Mexico Tourism Commission met in Silver City on Friday, Dec. 7, at the Silver City Museum Annex.
The commissioners were introduced: Al Lucero is a Santa Fe restauranteur; Selena L. Chino, a Mescalero Apache; Chairman Ted Garcia, a former chief executive officer of KNME; Tourism Department Cabinet Secretary Monique Jacobson, who said: "Silver City is a gem"; Chris Stagg of Taos Ski Valley; and Randy Randall, who used to manage the El Dorado Hotel in Santa Fe. Staff accompanying them included Brian O'Neill, tourism development programs director, and Jordan Guenther, digital media manager.
"Cissy (McAndrew, Southwest Green chamber of Commerce executive director), Faye (McCalmont, Mimbres Region Arts Council executive director), and Julie (Minicucci, Silver City Arts and Cultural District director) offered all the help to get us down here," Garcia said.
"Your legislators have been so supportive," Jacobson said. "They realize the importance of tourism here."
She said there were three things that were important to know: 1) understand the New Mexico True campaign; 2) the partnership the department needs to have with communities, and "you are the gold standard. I'm always talking about your uniqueness"; and 3) members.
Jacobson said New Mexico is No. 38 for people visiting the state. "We did the numbers. There are so many misconceptions. We heard over and over that it is a boring state."
"New Mexico is about sight doing, rather than sightseeing" Jacobson said. "What makes us different is our authenticity." She showed a short video of the New Mexico True campaign and spoke of the emotional connection people have to the state. "We are doing a lot of dollars in research into why people aren't coming to visit. The word True speaks to our landscape, our authenticity and richness of experience."
The New Mexico True campaign was a regional launch within the state, then to nearby states, and then to Houston, San Diego, Calif., and Chicago.
"We are breaking through and people are going to the website," Jacobson said. "Within a few weeks we will do return on investment from bookings. We are not pulling money from education with our appropriations. We are bringing in new dollars. We need communities to get on board. Go to the asset library website at www.nmtourism.org or create an ad or promotion at www.newmexico.org .
"You guys are the best at maintaining your own spirit," Jacobson said. "I believe Silver City is New Mexico True."
She cited an increase of nearly 5 percent in visitors since the campaign was launched, with staying visitors rising nearly 6 percent and 12 percent making New Mexico their destination. New Mexico True merchandise will roll out in the New Year.
"We relaunched the website and business grew 30 percent after a listing on the website," Jacobson said. "We have created trip itinerary planning. We need your help to populate the website if you have a tourism-oriented business.
"As for southern initiatives, we are making a concerted effort to do a lot below I-40," Jacobson said. "We made sure we (photographed) things that could be anywhere, things that take place all over the state."
She mentioned two southern initiatives, including an extension of the commercial zone to 55 miles from Mexico so visitors can shop without a visa in Deming.
"I believe the Spaceport can be a complete game-changer for New Mexico," Jacobson said. "It's not only the people going up, who by the way have money, but all the people who come to see it.
"We must get informed consent passed by the Legislature," she emphasized. "We've also got to think about product development in Silver City and Deming, so they will be part of the trip. You need to create packages for them."
She noted that tourism in the state pays for about 4,000 teachers and offsets $747 in taxes per household.
The New Mexico Bowl will take place in Albuquerque, with Arizona playing in it, on Dec. 15. "People can travel through Silver City on their way."
JetBlue will have a direct flight from New York to Albuquerque.
Stagg said what the department has been doing "is great. We need your support for additional advertising dollars from the Legislature."
"New Mexico should be in the top 10 for states visited," Garcia said. "We have left too much on the table. Ad dollars will enhance resources."
Randall pointed out that the department is not just throwing dollars at advertising, but "now we can prove the campaign works. The money is carefully directed, but we have a product that needs more money."
Becky O'Connor, owner of Casitas de Gila near Gila, said she sees the state's responsibility to market the state as a whole, with areas marketing their regions, and individuals doing their own marketing. "There is not a lot of marketing of New Mexico." She asked for a list of legislators to contact about the appropriation.
Randall said the first hurdles would be the Legislative Finance Committee in the Senate and the House Appropriation Committee. "All legislators listen to their constituents."
"These are facts," Lucero said about talking points on the website, "but what counts is one-on-one on how tourism affects business and the tax situation in the county and city. We need it from the heart."
Mary Galbraith of the Region 2 Tourism board said Jacobson has her hands full with six regions fighting for money. "The Tourism Department has given us incredible tools. You can list your business for free, other than time. It's there for you to use."
Garcia encouraged more of the participants to become members of the Tourism Association of New Mexico. "Jan. 29 is Tourism Day in Santa Fe, We would love to have you there. The theme is 'Support the New Mexico True campaign.'"
He explained the informed consent legislation that will be introduced. "It fully informs those who are going to fly into space, and the bill will hold harmless the flight companies, such as Virgin Galactic. Texas, Colorado and Florida have hold harmless laws, which make us less competitive. If you want to quantify the loss, we lost $12 million from XCOR Aerospace to Florida. SpaceX went to Brownsville, Texas. Each visitor will spend $200,000 to $300,000 to go into space. That's $125 million in direct spending and 1,700 new jobs. We have to make the case to the Legislature."
Stagg said even if a company is not in the space-flight business, already $209 million has been put into the Spaceport. "New Mexico should be at the forefront."
Jacobson said New Mexico is also the only state with a sunset clause to indemnifying sub-contractors, but the law does not indemnify if there is gross negligence.
"Trial lawyers believe the indemnification opens doors to poor practice," Garcia said. "I don't think it does."
"A key point," Randalll said, "is when you go on a horseback ride, you sign a waiver. This opportunity is stealable by other states. If we have no operator, it does impact the entire state."
Lucero said no operator would be able to afford the insurance without the hold harmless legislation.
"It sends a signal that we are not competitive," Garcia said.
During commissioner comments, Lucero said the Santa Fe area began the Wine and Chile Festival 22 years ago, because there was nothing between Labor Day and the Balloon Festival. Now it's a week-long festival and fills hotel rooms. It runs simultaneously with the Automobile Concorso.
"You need to build events and ask the department to help with listings for it," Lucero said. "The Winter Indian Market is growing. The summer one is the largest in the world. And then we have the Winter Hispanic Market. We need snow for Ski and Suds. The Santa Fe Restaurant Week in February is making it a culinary destination. The 60-day legislative session is tourism."
Chino said Ski Apache has delayed its opening to Dec. 14, because of lack of natural snow. She said she is a regular volunteer at the Indian Market. "The good news about the lack of snow is that we are finishing the gondola, the Apache Arrow, that was damaged in the Little Bear Fire. There was no damage to the main lodge."
Stagg said the gondola is a big project and it is state-of-the-art. Taos Ski Valley opened Thanksgiving, and next weekend will open the top of the mountain. "I've been 39 years in the ski business in New Mexico and every winter is different. We also do a good business in the summer. We did a big environmental impact statement on improvement to the mountain. The Forest Service approved our plan. One appeal was denied, so we will go ahead with the project."
An audience member said he was from Columbus and would like the town to be the Tombstone of New Mexico. "It's the only place attacked (in the continental U.S.) by a foreign nation before 9/11.
Randall pointed out that Taos Ski Valley is the third most affordable in the country. "Make sure you coordinate events with each other and build success on different weekends." He said the drought is a serious situation. "I'm concerned about whether we will be able to operate steam engines next year. The drought is all the more reason we need advertising dollars to counter the news business, who will advertise the drought."
Jacobson said she met with the Office of the State Engineer to discuss the dire situation with reservoir levels. "It's critical how we tell the drought story. Don't create alarm."
Lucero said the southwest region suffered from forest fires. "Stop emphasizing fires."
Garcia said the renovations of the Albuquerque Convention Center within 100 days would be good. "We are down 3 percent in hotel bookings.
He said the rest of the session would be listening to the audience members.
The rest of the meeting will be covered in a future article.