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Nov. 30--State Tourism Secretary Monique Jacobson had some happy news about the tourist industry when she recently testified before the Legislative Finance Committee: More tourists are coming to New Mexico, and they're spending more money here.

According to a report from the Tourism Department, there were 32 million overnight and day visitors in 2012, a gain of 2.6 percent from the 31.2 million visits in 2011. The previous high was in 2008, with 31.4 million visits. The figures are based upon the New York-based Longwoods International, which studies American leisure and business travel behavior.

Tourists spent an estimated $5.9 billion in New Mexico last year, which generated $612 million in state and local tax revenue. In 2011, tourists spent just over $5.5 billion in the state.

Department officials believe these higher numbers are an indication that last year's $2 million advertising budget increase for tourism marketing was successful.

However, during that time, surrounding states have seen even bigger increases in their ad budgets. Arizona increased its ad budget by $13 million, while Colorado increased its budget by $3.3 million and Utah by $4 million.

To "build on the momentum" of last year's tourism increase, the New Mexico Tourism Department is asking for a $2.5 million budget increase for advertising next year.

There were positive tourism statistics in several areas, Jacobson told legislators.

For instance, this summer saw a record number of tourism-related jobs. In June 2013, the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics reported that leisure and hospitality employment in New Mexico surpassed pre-recession levels. Leisure and hospitality employment increased 5.5 percent -- which amounts to 4,767 jobs -- over the summer of 2012.

The number of overnight trips to the state in 2012 actually were flat, at 14.5 million. But according to the Tourism Department's annual research report, published in September, this was because of a decrease in what the tourism industry calls "nonmarketable overnight trips," which include business trips, trips to visit friends and family, and other travel not influenced by marketing.

"Marketable" overnight trips to New Mexico were up 11.3 percent to 6.9 million last year. On the national level, marketable trips increased 9 percent, while business trips declined.

This summer's lodging receipts jumped nearly 9 percent over last year's figure, lawmakers were told last week.

There's also more Internet interest. State Tourism Department website visits doubled this summer, while visits to the state's Digital Vacation Guide increased by more than 250 percent.

New Mexico tourists are getting younger, the annual report says. Last year, 60 percent of all visitors were under the age of 45.

But while these figures indicate the state has been successful in attracting tourists to New Mexico, getting them to come back is another thing.

A significant area of weakness, according to the annual research report, is in the area of tourists who say they intend to return. Just under 30 percent of New Mexico visitors last year said they intended to return. That's compared with nearly 48 percent of tourists in Colorado, Arizona and Utah who say they intend to return to those states. These figures are based on surveys by Longwoods International.

Two major sets of New Mexico tourists -- young people and people from California -- have low rates of "intend to return," the annual report says. Only about 16 percent of Californians say they intend to return to New Mexico, while 27 percent of visitors between the ages of 18 and 34 say they want to come back.

However, 46 percent those in that age group who visited Colorado, Arizona and Utah say they intend to return.

The report doesn't explain why Californians and young tourists are less inclined to want to come back to New Mexico

Contact Steve Terrell at sterrell@sfnewmexican.com. Read his political blog at roundhouseroundup.com.

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