|By Russell Max Simon, Albuquerque Journal, N.M.|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
May 2, 2005 - SANTA FE, N.M. -- Since 2002, New Mexico has contracted with Southwest Planning and Marketing, a Santa Fe consulting firm, to provide a periodic "barometer" -- a quick read on which way the winds are blowing in the tourism industry.
The barometer allows the Department of Tourism to respond more quickly to trends in the industry rather than waiting six months or a year to analyze information such as lodgers tax and sales tax revenues, said Mike Stauffer, the department's communications director.
According to the most recent barometer report, tourism is up, though still recovering from 9/11 and the recession that accompanied it.
Southwest Planning and Marketing uses a complex methodology, dividing the state into 12 regions and gathering information from hotels, restaurants, galleries, museums, parks, and visitor centers to come up with an index representing either growth or decline.
For the Santa Fe region, which includes Los Alamos, tourism this past winter was up 1 percent from the previous one, though still down 4 percent from the winter of 2002-2003.
In 2004 as a whole, the barometer concluded that tourism in the Santa Fe area was flat compared to 2002 but up 4.7 percent from 2003.
The consulting firm also gathers anecdotal evidence for its report to supplement the numbers. The businesses that participate in the survey are promised confidentiality, to encourage them to share otherwise proprietary information.
Bruce Poster, Southwest Planning's lead consultant, said that of the 12 regions surveyed, Santa Fe has actually suffered more than others since 9/11 because the city's tourism flow relies so heavily on air traffic -- mostly from tourists flying into Albuquerque.
Stauffer agreed, saying that "Santa Fe has always been a strong flight market. The city counts a lot on international tourism, and the airline industry has been a long time recovering."
The report also highlights a national trend since 2001: more people are traveling by car.
Art Bouffard, president of the New Mexico Lodging Association, said that "what we're seeing in the New Mexico marketplace and particularly in Santa Fe and the northern part of the state is more drive traffic. More people are driving their vehicles, despite the fact that gas prices are high."
For all of Santa Fe's reputation as a tourist mecca, Bouffard and Poster say the anecdotal evidence speaks to some underlying difficulties in encouraging people to come to the area -- especially the city's "tendency to roll up the sidewalks at 6 p.m.," as Bouffard put it.
"Someone coming to Santa Fe and wanting to look around at shops and galleries and that sort of thing, they find that everything's just shut down. I think there's a change that needs to happen in the attitude in Santa Fe. We don't find that same type of problem in Albuquerque or certain other communities. Certainly restaurants and hotels stay open (in Santa Fe), but walk the streets and everything (else) is closed," Bouffard said.
But Poster said that early business closing was a statewide problem that he also found in places such as Taos and Ruidoso.
"The only way to change that is to get the industry agreeing we're not going to close early. If only one business does it it doesn't work .".". I don't see tourism in Santa Fe being really united right now. I don't see them working very collectively," Poster said.
Poster added that the anecdotal evidence pointed to another thing everyone would benefit from: a new civic center.
Despite Santa Fe's problems, Poster and Bouffard both agreed the recent barometer report shows mostly good news for the area's tourism industry. Bouffard said he expects hotel occupancy rates for the coming year will be the highest they've been since 2000.
In March, hotels in the Santa Fe area reported a 69.2 percent occupancy rate, compared to 60.2 percent the year before -- nearly a 10 percent increase.
Bouffard attributed the jump primarily to the expanded ski season, though Bouffard said the state needs several consecutive years of good snow to bring back the tourists who have drifted to Colorado mountains during New Mexico's recent poor snow years.
"We need to entice those Texans to come back to New Mexico," Bouffard said.
The barometer report for the past winter also stated that while skiing was big in Santa Fe, other outdoor activities such as hiking showed a decline due to the wet weather.
Another trend highlighted by the report is an increased lack of long-term planning.
"In the past people would book their reservations three to five months in advance. Now people are booking travel within a week or five days. They seem to be holding back a little in making their decision," Bouffard said.
The Santa Fe region accounts for about one-fifth of the tourism in New Mexico, according to the report.
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Copyright (c) 2005, Albuquerque Journal, N.M.
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