New Mexico: Deals Abound

State puts up an extra $1 million for tourism promotion; suppliers gear up with bargains

By: Kevin Brass

After a year of fires and drought, the New Mexico tourism industry is moving to reinvigorate the state’s travel economy.

Hotels and resorts throughout the state are starting to “wheel and deal,” said Art Bouffard, executive director of the New Mexico Lodging Association. “There are some great bargains out there.”

Group and tour business in the state are down an estimated 5% to 10%, according to industry observers. Leisure travel is up, especially by families taking trips by car, but “unfortunately, the leisure traveler doesn’t spend as much money” as business travelers, Bouffard said.

Faced with the slowdown, the New Mexico legislature recently approved an additional $1 million to help promote the state.

The upcoming edition of the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, Oct. 5-13, is seen as an important barometer of the state’s tourism industry.

“Last year, it was really impacted by 9/11,” said Steve Dewire, general manager of the Hyatt Regency Tamaya, a destination resort and spa near Albuquerque.

For the balloon festival, the Tamaya is offering a two-night package, including a balloon flight and VIP passes to the festival, for $799 per person. With a strong emphasis on the Native American pueblo culture of the area, Dewire said, the resort has posted occupancy rates of more than 70% this summer, catering primarily to leisure travelers.

“We’ve seen the start of a good recovery,” said Mary Kay Cline, president and CEO of the Albuquerque Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The bureau is targeting more regional meetings through a “cluster” strategy, emphasizing different groups of hotel and meeting facilities around the city.

“We’re trying to hone in on customers who can book into smaller areas of Albuquerque,” Cline said.

The CVB is also targeting leisure travelers with a variety of packages, linking with everything from cooking schools to the local rattlesnake museum. Consumer advertising of the campaign, Albuquerque: It’s a Trip, has generated more than 40,000 inquiries in recent months, according to Mike Miller, owner of Albuquerque-based Rio Grande Travel, which books the trips.

Multinight packages, excluding airfare, range from $150 to $619 per person, double. For example, a package that includes two nights at La Posada de Albuquerque, one of the oldest hotels in the city, two dinners, a balloon ride, a ticket for the city’s tramway and a trip to a local cooking school costs $413 per person, double.

With travelers staying closer to home, New Mexico is attracting more attention these days, especially from older travelers wary of flying, said Stacey Key, tour planner for Inland Empire Tours and Transportation of Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.

“A lot of people have never been there before,” Key said. “It’s off the beaten path.”

Efforts to market the state are clearly having an impact.

“The summer was very, very good,” said Dee Larson, owner of All World Travel, who also runs Enchanted Vista, a small bed-and-breakfast in Albuquerque. “It seems like the state is trying to stay ahead of the problem and keep people coming.”

But more people are coming by car than by air. One indicator: The amount of free coffee consumed at New Mexico roadside information centers has more than doubled in the last year, Bouffard said.

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