Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

NM tourism leaders are demanding $ 55 million from lawmakers to help the ailing industry

A snowboarder catches his breath on a jump at Ski Santa Fe in 2019. New Mexico’s ski industry saw a 35% decline last year, part of a larger downturn in the state’s tourism industry. (Eddie Moore / )

New Mexico tourism leaders are calling for $ 55 million from lawmakers during the special session of the legislature to help reinvest in the ailing industry.

During a joint press conference at the Albuquerque Convention Center on Monday, executives from different parts of the industry, including Ski New Mexico and the New Mexico Restaurant Association, came together to support the funding proposal and urged lawmakers to support the ailing industry.

“If we don’t rebuild the tourism industry quickly, it will have a long-term impact on the New Mexico economy as a whole,” said Kathy Komoll, CEO of the New Mexico Hospitality Association.

New Mexico’s tourism industry, previously the state’s largest private sector, continues to be hit harder than most by the COVID-19 pandemic and its associated restrictions. Tania Armenta, President and CEO of Visit Albuquerque, said the organization has only rebooked 28% of the conventions and events scheduled to take place since the pandemic began, costing the city millions of dollars in lost revenue during that period. Overall, the state lost around $ 4.3 billion in visitor spending in 2020.

George Brooks, executive director of Ski New Mexico, added that New Mexico’s ski industry saw visitor numbers fall by 35% last year, compared to a 12% increase across the country.

“We went down, everyone else went up,” said Brooks.

The group’s proposal would allocate $ 55 million from the US federal rescue plan for marketing, human resource development, and other efforts in support of the tourism industry. Of this, $ 25 million would be allocated to the New Mexico Department of Tourism to support the industry over the winter and spring. Armenta said Albuquerque and New Mexico are competing with other communities that are aggressively spending money to attract events and other sources of tourism spending.

“It’s a highly competitive environment,” she said.

According to the proposal, an additional $ 30 million would be used to improve training and recruitment efforts in the industry. While the leisure and hospitality sectors have recovered somewhat since 2020, employment remains around 12% below its level 24 months ago, according to the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions. Imesh Vaidya, former regional director of the Asian American Hotel Owners Association, said New Mexico hospitality employers have had to cut down on services that help attract visitors, which is damaging the state’s competitiveness.

“If travelers in New Mexico don’t have the experience they might have elsewhere, especially in our neighboring states, that will affect us in the long term,” said Vaidya.

Carol Wight, CEO of the New Mexico Restaurant Association, said the funding would expand a partnership with DWS, which offers reimbursements to tourism industry employers trying to train staff. It would also extend the industry’s ProStart program, which provides high school and senior high school students with cooking and management skills to prepare them for the industry, to high schools across the state.

Taken together, Wight said these proposals would help rebuild the industry’s employment pipeline.

“The resources needed to get our industry back on track are here in the state, and we are asking our Santa Fe executives to help bring the hospitality industry back on track,” said Wight.

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