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Tourism Heats Up in Santa Fe, New Mexico; Hotel Occupancy
 Through May Up 5% Over Last Year
By Bob Quick, The Santa Fe New Mexican
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

Jul. 17, 2005 - Santa Fe's important tourist industry is having a strong summer.

Most of the indicators are positive - hotel occupancy rates are up, Santa Fe has just been named the third-best destination by a major travel publication, and August, the busiest month of the year, is just around the corner.

Out on Cerrillos Road, in what may be a positive development for modestly priced motels, a 25-room motel has been closed and is being converted to a business center.

That means that the remaining motels on Cerrillos Road will have one less competitor, a lodging industry official noted.

Santa Fe's busy year for tourism actually got started back in January - that's when hotel occupancy started off stronger than the year before. That trend has continued through the year, and by May, occupancy for the first five months of 2005 was 5 percentage points ahead of last year, according to the Rocky Mountain Lodging Report.

The final June occupancy number is due any day, said Darlene Griego, director of the city's Convention and Visitors Bureau.

In the meantime, "July is building nicely - the (International) Folk Art Market certainly helped," she said. "Spanish Market is coming up. We're very hopeful it will be a good month. It looked a little soft at first, but it's filled in. August looks good."

Calls to Sweeney Convention Center for information about Santa Fe in the most recent fiscal year, which ended June 30, were up 20,000 over the previous fiscal year.

"They were up a little bit last year (over the year before that), but not by this amount," Griego said. "We're getting a lot of inquiries from Arizona -that's been a difficult market for us to penetrate."

The interest in Santa Fe has been spurred by recent articles about the city in the Arizona Republic and in newspapers in Ohio, Illinois and Connecticut, Griego added.

Just as important, Travel and Leisure magazine, for the fourth year in a row, ranked Santa Fe among the top 10 travel destinations among U.S. and Canadian cities.

Santa Fe came in third on the "World Best Awards" list, behind only New York and San Francisco. Cities were ranked on sights, culture/arts, restaurants/food, people, shopping and value.

"We were very happy with that," Griego said. "A poll like this confirms that Santa Fe's services, attractions and overall allure rate with the best in the world."

Art Bouffard, executive director of the New Mexico Lodging Association, said June had been "a pretty good month" for Santa Fe lodgers, as July may turn out to be as well despite a slow start.

"The same thing happened last year for the first part of July," he said. "It picked up around the 15th, and that made up for slowness earlier. August looks pretty decent in terms of present bookings."

Santa Fe hotel managers contacted last week said their reservations generally have been strong.

"May and June were good months for us, and April was one of the best months we've ever had," said Rich Verruni, general manager of the Eldorado Hotel. "August looks promising as well."

Verruni also said the Eldorado's new spa has been well received. "Two weeks ago, we did 75 treatments, the highest number since the facility opened earlier this year."

The Eldorado has also helped keep its rooms full by keeping patrons' gas tanks the same way. "We have a gas-rebate program that gives a guest who stays three nights a $50 rebate on gasoline," he said. "It's another reason for people to come to Santa Fe."

Steve Caalim, general manager of Hotel St. Francis, declined to provide occupancy numbers, but said, "We're doing a lot better than last year," with many of the hotel's guests from neighboring states.

The Hotel St. Francis also benefits from being named a "preferred hotel" by The Santa Fe Opera, which brings back year after year guests who are opera fans, Caalim said. At the Hotel Santa Fe, general manager Paul Margetson said the hotel is having a marginally better July than last year. "August will be fine," he said. "And for the year as a whole we're doing a little better than last year.

As for gas prices, "Ten or 20 years ago, there was panic when prices shot up like they have," he said. "It's amazing how little panic there is about this now."

Inn of the Governors general manager Sam Gerberding said his property had a record June with a 90 percent occupancy rate.

"We had a really good group business, and there are signs our transient business is coming back," he said. "August looks very strong."

Bouffard has some apprehension about the rising price of gasoline and how that will affect people traveling to Santa Fe. "It's bound to have some sort of backlash, but so far things aren't looking too bad," he said.

Another impact on the local lodging market comes from the sale of the Cactus Lodge. The new owners of the property are converting the motel to the Cactus Centro Commercial Business Center. Those owners could not be reached for comment.

The Silver Saddle Motel has also changed hands and is now owned by Jackalope, which is adjacent to the motel. Chris Keeton, Jackalope's controller, said the Silver Saddle at Jackalope, as the property is now called, will continue to operate as a motel at least until the end of the year.

"That could change," he said. "No decision has been made yet."

The removal of Cactus Lodge's 25 rooms from the market and the possible reduction of another 25 rooms should the Silver Saddle be converted to another use "will help other properties" on Cerrillos Road, Bouffard said. "Probably not this year but next."

Rumors about new hotels in Santa Fe come up occasionally, but a new property is unlikely, Bouffard said.

"I've not heard of anything," he said. "There was some talk of a new hotel along St. Francis Drive, but it's just not feasible. The (development) costs are horrible in Santa Fe."


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Copyright (c) 2005, The Santa Fe New Mexican

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