Gross Receipts and Lodgers' Tax Revenues Up Significantly

Silver City -- It appears that Silver City is realizing a strong return on its investment with the Albuquerque advertising and marketing firm, Sunny 505, as revenues from lodgers' tax are up a whopping 24% since 2017, total gross receipts tax (GRT) revenues have increased 8%, and GRT from food and lodging specifically are also up 6%. Lodgers' taxes are up in Grant County as well, given that the two governments are working together to promote tourism.  

"I'm very pleased with the increase in gross receipts taxes," said Silver City Mayor Ken Ladner. "Silver City's budget, and the funds that we have to provide services to residents without raising property taxes, is largely dependent on these taxes. Although there are many factors that contribute to tourism and the money that visitors spend in our community, the bottom line is that the more tourism we're able to generate, the more stable our local revenues are, and that's good for Silver City."

At least some local merchants say they are happy that the town is working with a dedicated marketing firm to promote local tourism, believe there are more tourists in town, and hear from many customers who've either recently relocated to Silver City or are seriously considering it.

Howard  Richardson, owner of The Corner Kitchen restaurant at the corner of Bullard and San Vicente streets, was first drawn to Silver City from San Diego by the "New Mexico True" campaign, perhaps best recognized for dramatic, scenic photography in print advertising, and the New Mexico True TV series, featuring brief "clips" from tourist destinations around the state, hosted by a young, handsome, Black man with a cowboy hat.

"I saw that and I thought, wow! This is pretty killer," recalled Richardson, who opened the popular Corner Kitchen in 2017. "Every week I'm hearing customers saying they've just moved here, or they're thinking about it - that's every week.  There are more people from out of town, for sure. There's been a dramatic change from two years ago."

Dale Rucklos, owner of the Tranquil Buzz Coffee House on Yankie Street, said he's seen an increase in tourism over the past few years, with a "good influx of people from Phoenix, Tucson, Albuquerque and El Paso," markets being targeted by the Sunny 505 campaign. "There's also a marked increase in tourism over the past few years, especially European travelers," said Rucklos. "You would not believe how often I hear couples either contemplating buying a home, or who've already bought one.  I think the marketing is really working. I like it."

Local realtors are also finding a lot to like, regardless of how directly correlated the local resurgence in home sales is to the tourism marketing campaign.

Blake Farley, broker/owner of Hacienda Realty, confirms that the real estate market has shifted dramatically in the past few years, and even tentatively says that at least in Silver City, it's now a seller's market.  Even the harder-to-move, more expensive properties are selling, says Farley, who reports seeing "lots of people from Colorado, California, many of whom are refugees from the fires, Alaska, Florida, New York and the Austin and Dallas areas, where the tech industry is contributing to traffic jams and higher prices. 

"We're seeing many properties with multiple offers, even a few selling for significantly more than the asking price," Farley said. "I haven't seen this kind of market resurgence since 2006. Even houses that have been on the market forever are selling.  And downtown and in the university area, it's slim pickings. If it's not a tear down, it's probably going to see multiple offers."

The Town of Silver City is now in its second year with Sunny 505, having first worked with the Arts and Cultural District to market the town's cultural tourism events, then SkyWest Media, which was tasked with researching each lodgers' tax-funded event to ascertain where tourists were coming from and why, among other questions, concluding that the town's tourism promotion efforts would best be handled by a dedicated marketing firm.

Joanie Griffin, Sunny 505 CEO, says part of the creative strategy behind Silver City's collaborative, tourism marketing effort with Grant County is to help prospective visitors be "sightdoing" versus sightseeing. "People want to picture themselves having these outdoor adventures, not just passively visiting," she said.  

To maximize the rather modest budget of approximately $300,000, of which $185,000 is paid for by Silver City lodgers' tax dollars, advertising emphasizes digital and social media ads, primarily on Facebook and Instagram, as well as a Trip Advisor campaign, all placed in Albuquerque, Tucson, El Paso and Las Cruces. Frequent social media posts push visitors to the website, www.visitsilvercity.org, which has seen a dramatic increase of nearly 200% in "hits" over the past year, while Facebook "likes" now total more than 20,000.

Advertorials and pricier, print advertising is made possible by collaboration with the state Tourism Department's New Mexico True campaign, featured primarily in New Mexico Magazine, a tourism department publication, along with the Albuquerque Journal's Summer and Winter guides, and various free, local publications, such as Tucson's Local Flavor magazine.  New Mexico tourism grant funds, which total nearly $60,000, allow Sunny 505 to leverage marketing dollars and capitalize on emerging, data-driven advertising vehicles such as Viant TV, which allows marketers to dial in to a very specific marketing demographic. 

The Sunny team also works with travel writers to get stories about Silver City placed in major national newspapers and magazines, and in 2019 scored a New York Times story on local birding. A monthly electronic newsletter is mailed to a list of some 5,000 visitors who've requested more information, and Tucson light rail trolley cars are ablaze with Grant County/Silver City New Mexico True campaign imagery through October, while streaming video images are running at both Tucson and El Paso airports, as well as in Tucson movie theaters.

Local events such as the Silver City Blues Festival, Tour of the Gila and others are also supported by lodgers' tax dollars, and local organizers work with Griffin's team to coordinate local marketing efforts with the larger campaign.  

"We love working in Silver City," said Griffin, who's marketing career now spans nearly three decades. "It's an amazing place with so much to offer. We're looking forward to even greater success in the coming year."