|By Rosalie Rayburn, Albuquerque Journal,
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Dec. 12, 2005 - ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- Albuquerque still has a long way to go to before it becomes a tourism destination in a league with other Southwest cities such as San Antonio, Texas, and Denver.
To outsiders who compared it with cities that are obviously urban, Albuquerque still has safety concerns, lack of upscale hotel rooms near the convention center and a dearth of activity downtown.
That's the stark reality spelled out in a report from a consultant hired by the Albuquerque Convention and Visitors Bureau.
The bureau hired Egret Communications to study and report on the city's strengths and weaknesses as a tourism destination. The bureau's contract with the city calls for a comprehensive plan to transform Albuquerque into a tourism destination that is recognized nationally.
Based on first impressions gathered during two brief visits in September and October, the city still has a long way to go, according to Egret Communications, a Willard, Miss.-based tourism consultants.
"As a tourism economic engine, this is an eight-cylinder vehicle firing on three of the eight cylinders," the recently released report said.
New management at the bureau and the Convention Center took a step in the right direction to help Albuquerque attract more convention business, it said. However, the city needs more top-notch hotel rooms close to the Convention Center to make it a realistic player in the increasingly cutthroat convention business.
The downtown area also faces growing competition from the casino resorts such as the Hyatt Regency Tamaya near Bernalillo and the new Sandia Casino & Resort at Sandia Pueblo.
Imagewise, Albuquerque still has a problem when it comes to user-friendly taxi service, personal safety on downtown streets and a vibrant downtown.
"It is a downtown area that is too spread out" from a tourism perspective, empty in the daytime and "dead in the evening," the report said.
Downtown Action Team president Luisa Casso said the criticism was unfounded.
"I think it's a bit unfair that in a very short period of time that these very broad comments can be made," she said, adding that she had met with the report authors for about 45 minutes.
The Downtown Action Team is midway through a five-year plan to revitalize the downtown area by bringing in new retail, residential and commercial development.
Casso acknowledged Albuquerque still hasn't caught up with the competition from cities, like Denver, that have extensive and lively downtown areas.
"(But) there is a very strong foundation and the city is on the right path," Casso said.
On a bright note: Egret's report loved the Albuquerque International Sunport, the climate, and raved about the Sandia Tramway and the area golf courses.
Old Town is a gem that could shine as a cultural selling point, but restrictive alcohol serving laws and store opening hours have left it an undiscovered treasure, the report said.
It suggests that city officials should work more closely with the bureau to overcome the drawbacks and take advantage of Albuquerque's natural advantages as a tourism destination.
"This process will stimulate a feedback process," said bureau president Dale Lockett.
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Copyright (c) 2005, Albuquerque Journal, N.M.
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