RIO RANCHO, N.M – The Santa Fe Plaza is empty. So are the narrow streets of the adobe-laden historic district in the heart of Albuquerque. The ski lifts are idle, the galleries are shuttered, and the fate of the summer art market season is uncertain.
New Mexico Cabinet Secretary for Tourism Jen Schroer warned March 27 the state’s tourism industry will continue suffering amid COVID-19 restrictions and pledged that the state will do what it can to help hotels, tourist spots, and businesses recover once restrictions are lifted.
Schroer also announced that the state has canceled its spring national tourism campaign and will scrap all upcoming events related to certain tourism events.
Without giving many details, Schroer said during a webinar that tourism businesses could start preparing for recovery by using state and federal programs aimed at easing their financial losses. She mentioned that a few grants are available.
“New Mexico’s tourism industry will come roaring back,” she said. “But we need to start now.”
Since Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and other governors began adopting restrictions aimed at reducing the spread of the coronavirus, attendance at many popular tourist destinations has dropped to nearly zero. The state’s largest airport, Sunport International in Albuquerque, has experienced a traffic reduction of 90%.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.
New Mexico hotels are allowed to remain open but can’t exceed 50% occupancy, under state restrictions aimed at preventing the spread of the virus. All non-essential businesses not related to industries like health care, media or food production have been ordered closed. That has led to layoffs of workers at hotels, spas, casinos, breweries, and restaurants.
The U.S Department of Labor said last week more than 17,000 people in the state applied for unemployment insurance – an 18-fold increase from the previous week.
Schroer said hotels are allowed to exceed the 50% occupancy limit when they offer rooms to certain health care workers.
The drop in tourism comes after the state’s sector had years of growth.
The sector in 2017 injected $6.6 billion into the economy, state officials have said. That was a 3.2% increase over 2016, or $200 million more and the largest in state history.
Former Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, who left office in 2019, has credited her administration’s “New Mexico True” campaign for “record-breaking” tourism during her eight years in office.
Created in 2012, the campaign that initially spent $2 million featured colorful images of families in New Mexico kayaking, mountain climbing, and making pottery. The state has spent more than $60 million since 2012 promoting tourist attractions on billboards and in commercials in Texas, Arizona, New York, and Illinois.
The campaign refers visitors to tagged New Mexico photos on social media featuring the #NewMexicoTrue hashtag.
It highlights famous sites like White Sands National Monument and Taos Pueblo, the Breakfast Burrito Byway – restaurants serving New Mexican breakfast burritos – and how to explore the path of outlaw Billy the Kid.