Inside the Capitol

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

10-28 More tourists for less money?

102811 tourism

SANTA FE – New Mexico can attract many more tourists without spending any more money. That was the message from state Tourism Department Secretary Monique Jacobson to the Legislative Finance Committee last week.
Jacobson says we just have to work smarter and elevate our game. And that we can do without any increase in appropriation. The message, of course, was music to legislative ears. But will it work? Our neighboring states spend many times New Mexico's $2.5 million advertising budget already.
Jacobson says the secret lies in how we spend our money. New Mexico's measly $2.5 million will be switched from tourism services to tourism generating expenditures.
"We've got to serve the traveler and not the destination," she explained. The New Mexico tourism industry has not appreciated the new secretary from the beginning. This will ice it.
But frugal-minded lawmakers likely will be willing to give Jacobson's austerity program a chance.
Attracting younger visitors is another of the young cabinet secretary's solutions. Playing to the young set is a popular fix to many ills for some reason. Our favorite piano bar in Santa Fe is getting rid of its grand piano in favor of pop music bands in order to attract a younger crowd.
The place already is packed with middle-aged and older folks with disposable personal income. I'm not sure what more is needed. The young folks will stay later but will they spend as much?
Some quick tactical wins are another part of Jacobson's strategy. Her "Catch the Kid" contest had New Mexicans and out-of-state visitors finding and arresting Billy the Kid.
To find the Kid, it was necessary to log onto a computer and see all the locations around the state where the Kid had stashed loot and left clues.
Then it was necessary to travel around New Mexico, with a smart phone onto which you had downloaded an app for the contest. Uh, what was that again? A fair segment of the adult population was lost right there.
Personally, I formed a posse composed of my kids, grandkids and several experts on New Mexico history to figure out what was going on. Among us, we quickly pinpointed the Kid's whereabouts, and when he would be caught.
We didn't participate in the final chase for the arrest, during the last weekend of the state fair. But our kids used the "loot" they had collected electronically to purchase "Catch the Kid" T-shirts for the grand kids.
Surprisingly little publicity was given to the final chase to arrest the Kid. From the news snippets I caught, the $10,000 prize was split between two winners.
Jacobson told the legislative committee the contest cost about uickly$600,000 and produced about $4 million in tourism revenue. She said she is pleased with the interest generated considering it was put together so quickly.
The responses I received were not as good but that's the way it goes in this business. The oldsters said they enjoyed my columns on the contest but had no idea what I was talking about.
Others said Billy the Kid was a horrible subject for the contest. All I can say is that my file on Billy the Kid is thicker than any other. In second place is UFOs. The governor comes in third. My conclusion is that people must like to be entertained.
Secretary Jacobson is going to stay in the news. Along with Education Secretary Hanna Skandera, the two have been the flashpoints for this administration.
They have been the ones to give walking papers to many staff members while building new programs. They both have been criticized by leaders of the constituencies they serve but if they can produce some results, New Mexicans will be happy to see them succeed.
We knew education results were bad but we hadn't heard that about tourism. We thought we were doing great but now we are told we are 38th at attracting tourists.
Good luck to both secretaries.


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