Last Tuesday, Leadership Albuquerque dug into the tourism and hospitality industry to learn how the successful “New Mexico True” state brand was born, understand how the industry has been impacted by COVID-19 and what recovery might look like, explore the fast-evolving world of manned space flight and space tourism, and more.
In its morning session, the Leadership Albuquerque class heard from former New Mexico Tourism Department Secretary Monique Jacobson, Visit Albuquerque President and CEO Tania Armenta, and Chief Space Officer of Virgin Galactic George Whitesides.
Jacobson emphasized the importance of building a strong state identity grounded in what it can uniquely offer and a real awareness of the challenges that lie in its way. She described the difficulty of overcoming out-of-state tourists’ ideas of what New Mexico was–namely, a stop on their way somewhere else – by relentlessly defining New Mexico as a place of “adventure steeped in culture,” a destination of unmatched authenticity, and a place where “do-ers” can thrive. By all accounts, the “New Mexico True” brand has been very successful, driving eight years of record-breaking tourism growth in our state.
Armenta addressed the blows COVID-19 has dealt to the tourism and hospitality industry in our city and state. 2020 was poised to be a big year for the industry, instead, the pandemic has cost the New Mexico economy approximately $400 million per month. She also suggested some policy changes that could help expedite the industry’s recovery, like a shift away from a blanket quarantine of 14 days or an increase from the 50% occupancy limit on hotels, which have proven not to be a significant source of spread. (Note: Last Thursday, Governor Lujan Grisham announced a change to the mandated 14-day quarantine for a few out-of-state travelers from lower-risk states with 5% positivity rates or lower, or who can furnish a negative COVID-19 test within three days of arriving in the NM. And a separate health order from Health Secretary Kathy Kunkel increased maximum hotel occupancy from 50% to 75%.) Armenta also described the ways the pandemic has changed travel and tourism. A survey conducted in mid-August showed that most traveling Americans are doing so to spend time with loved ones, get away from crowds, and enjoy nature, priorities that seem well-suited to circumstances that have kept people cooped up as they work and learn from home and prevented them from seeing family that live a plane ride away. But all told, in spite of the slight recovery the tourism and hospitality industry has already experienced, it could take years for it to truly return to the pre-COVID “normal.”
After eight years of record breaking tourism growth, the COVID related decline in New Mexico’s loss of tourism revenue ranks us #9 in the nation.
A national look at how travel recovery looks for states who re-open their industry.