Editor's Note: This is the second of several articles on the Interim Economic and Rural Development Committee meeting in Silver City July 14-15.

By Mary Alice Murphy

The Interim Economic and Rural Development Legislative Committee met at the Western New Mexico University J. Cloyd Miller Library on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The second presentation was given by Tourism Department Cabinet Secretary Rebecca Latham.

 

"Our program is based on the power of cooperation and speaking with a unified voice," Latham said. "We think New Mexico True is doing that. We have had record growth in tourism for the past three years. We use strategic data-based information.

"The first plank is building strong magnetic awareness of New Mexico," she continued. Collaboration and conversion make up two of the four planks the department uses. A fourth is inspiring instate travel.

In 2014, she said visitation was in its third year of breaking records, with 37.2 million visitors, a net gain of 500,000 over the year before. She said marketable overnight trips were increasing 2.1 percent year-over year, and were 40 percent above 2010. "We are outpacing the national average by 17 percent. Tourism continues to be a leader in job growth, with more than 90,000 people employed in the leisure and hospitality industry. In 2014, 2,242 jobs were created."

"Our mission is to make New Mexico the primary destination for venturesome travelers," Latham said. "They are people with an adventurous spirit and a thirst for authenticity."

The department seeks advertising effectiveness results, determining what messages work best in what markets. "For the venturesome, plenty of people want what we have," Latham said. "We are advertising in Dallas. What doesn't work is advertising on tamales, architecture or couples massage. What did work are various outdoor activities, cuisine (not tamales) and cultural heritage."

She said the advertising budget for the department had increased from $2.5 million in fiscal year 2011 to $9.35 million in fiscal year 2016-a 274 percent increase.

Latham showed creative examples of ads, including large ads in airports. "We are putting more emphasis on digital advertising. We have print ads with the recipe for the pictured food. We have sweepstakes for a culinary getaway."

With more than 30 New Mexico counties, the department has a lot of area to cover. "Silver City is integrating well. As a department, we offer templates free of charge. Other collaborations include state parks, Cultural Affairs, and national parks. You can upload videos on the interactive site."

In conversion, tourism works with the Economic Development Department and the New Mexico Film Office. "We share events and festivals, with radio ads. We are proud of what New Mexico Magazine has been able to accomplish." She showed the article on 25 Reasons to Love Silver City. The magazine article was repurposed with the Silver City Arts and Cultural District as a separate insert, which the district hands out.

New Mexico True videos show different areas of the state. True Views feature drone footage, "all done with permission. Video is more important than ever. People want to know what they will see before they book. The New Mexico Stories series shares with the world, the most important part of our story." She showed The Visionary about sculptor Michael Naranjo, who was blinded in Vietnam, but now sees the world "through my hands," he says. He shares his story of triumph over perversity.

Latham said the department has 20 free ways of getting New Mexico True "to work for you."

Rep. Bealquin "Bill" Gomez said he would like to see some wine ads.

Rep. John Zimmerman said Silver City was Billy the Kid's birthplace, but later corrected his statement to say it was where Billy the Kid grew up.

Rep. Debbie A. Rodella said she appreciated Latham's enthusiastic carrying on of programs started by former Secretary Monique Jacobson. "Most of the cities on your list are incorporated. But there are so many that are unincorporated. There is room for improvement. Is there a way to reach out to unincorporated places?"

Latham said the department does work with unincorporated areas. "We have a desire to reach out to everyone across the state that wants to increase tourism."

Rodella referred to a recent Jobs Council meeting, where a roundtable featured solo workers, one of whom said he came to New Mexico for the climate and the quality of life. "We want jobs for the underemployed. Reach out to corporations to hire people in New Mexico as solo workers."

Latham said the department is gathering preliminary research data outside tourism and is "actively crunching the numbers."

Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero pointed out that the committee members were in the home territory of Geronimo. "You say you want to promote the thirst for authenticity. What is your identification of that?"

"Off the beaten path, visiting pueblos, shopping under the portal, bed and breakfasts in smaller areas, and experiential tourism," Latham said. "Not commercial things you could do anywhere else in the world."

Roybal Caballero asked where promotion of these was available.

"We have a tribal guide by request, which shares being respectful of cultural differences," Latham said. "It includes feast days and information for those tribal communities that want to promote tourism. We can help for the benefit of artisans."

Roybal Caballero said in her travels, she hears the two major reasons why a group may want New Mexico to bid for their next convention. "They want exposure to Hispano and Native American cultures. The principal factor is they want to visit Chaco and missions. The department has improved greatly working with communities of cultural heritage, for cultural history facts and protocol for respecting various cultures and respecting the living factor."

Rep. D. Wonda Johnson thanked Latham and the department for respecting "our culture. We have here a Diné code talker (Sen. John Pinto). That is the true essence, because we wouldn't be here if our native language had not baffled our enemies. I want to express concerns about promoting native languages."

"Being culturally sensitive is important for New Mexico True," Latham said. "We have native advisors to help us best represent the native communities. There has been a disconnect between the department and the Native American cultures, but up to now communication hasn't been there. We are opening the lines of communication. It excites me to drive dollars to the Native American communities."

Zimmerman said the mayor of Santa Clara could attest to his interest in growing tourism, with Fort Bayard in his front yard. "Citizens see the deterioration of the historic buildings and it pains them. There is so much history there, with the Buffalo Soldiers and the national cemetery. There is more than Silver City in this area. We would like to see the film industry here more. Tourism has so much potential here. We need to plant the seed and it will grow."

He said he wanted to touch briefly on Johnson's point. "When I enlisted in the Navy, my first duty station was Japan. One of the Japanese workers said to me one day: 'If it weren't for your Navajo code talkers, you might be talking Japanese now.' That hit home."

"We are so grateful for Sen. Pinto," Latham said. "Our New Mexico Heroes True campaign recognizes four New Mexicans-veterans are very much a part of New Mexico True. I ask for your help in getting the word out about New Mexico True Heroes nominations."

Rep. Eliseo Lee Alcón said with his service on eight interim committees, "I spend a lot of time in hotels. I recently went to a fast food place and had really lousy service." When he questioned the young woman, she said she is worth nothing and works for nothing, probably minimum wage, he guessed. "We have to have people want to serve customers. Treat them good and they'll be back."

Latham concurred that customer service is "incredibly important. Tourism has the opportunity to bring in more money, offering more jobs so people can make more money. The visitor spend is on the rise, so we can change the economic climate."

Royal Caballero said the waitstaff does impact a visitor's impression. "I got very bad service in Salt Lake City. Overall, I think we give a warm impression in New Mexico. We should capitalize on improving the overall experience."

Sen. Howie Morales asked for clarification on the numbers Latham had given on visitation to the state. He asked how the statistics are compiled. "I question the statistics."

Latham said the surveys are sent out quarterly and a large sample size is extrapolated to get the numbers. Morales continued to question the statistics and said he would like to meet the research director to understand the numbers better. Committee Chairman Benny Shendo also asked for the numbers.

Gomez said he would like more help in unincorporated areas and an increase in grant dollars.

Rep. Rick Little asked if the numbers had a way to show the difference between work and leisure visits. Latham said the surveys asked the respondent to indicate whether the trip was for business, to visit friends and family or for leisure.

The next article will cover the presentation by Kevin Boberg, vice president for economic development at New Mexico State University.

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