January 27, 2017

New Mexico tourism chief: No funds to grow ad campaign


Bruce Krasnow/The New Mexican

Rebecca Latham, Cabinet secretary of the New Mexico Department of Tourism, center, speaks with lawmakers about her agency's budget during a committee hearing at the Capitol in Santa Fe on Thursday, Jan. 26. 2017.

The highly touted New Mexico True advertising campaign that spotlights the state’s culture, people and natural resources will not expand to new markets due to state budget constraints.

State tourism chief Rebecca Latham told lawmakers Thursday her agency spends more than ever to promote the state, but that has come by reducing employees and consolidating services.

New Mexico True promotes the state on airport billboards, print and social media in Dallas, Houston, Phoenix, Denver, San Diego, Chicago and most recently Austin. The next logical market is San Francisco, but Latham said the state does not have to money to grow into that market in the coming year.

“We still firmly believe San Francisco is the next great market,” she said. “It would cost us a minimum of $3.5 million to get into it.”

Like agencies across state government, the Department of Tourism absorbed a budget cut in the current fiscal year as the state reeled from a fall off in revenue, in part due to lower energy prices. Tourism trimmed $745,000 from its general fund allocation of $13.5 million in 2016. The department is set to see another cut of $200,000, or 1.6 percent for the fiscal year starting July 1.

Still, Latham told lawmakers every possible dollar is going to promote New Mexico. “We won’t be pulling back at all,” in the markets with the campaign but “we won’t be able to add any markets,” she said.

The advertising campaign launched in 2012 has been praised by Gov. Susana Martinez for helping to deliver record tourist visits and spending to the state. Hotel and lodge owners who spoke Thursday at the Capitol emphasized that, saying there was a tangible increase in visitors after the campaign was initiated.

George Brooks, executive director of Ski New Mexico, said a partnership between the state's ski resorts and the New Mexico Tourism Department helped draw more visitors to the slopes.

Courtesy the New Mexico True campaign

George Brooks, executive director of Ski New Mexico, said a partnership between the state’s ski resorts and the New Mexico Tourism Department helped draw more visitors to the slopes.

Latham said the marketing effort is already showing some residual benefits in attracting retirees and solo workers to New Mexico, who have gained a different perspective since focus groups in 2011 said their image of the state was an arid place with little to do.

“New Mexico True is not just marketing for tourism,” she said, “It has become marketing for New Mexico.”

Another factor that might impact tourism marketing is an effort by Gov. Martinez to consolidate the Tourism and Economic Development departments, said Rep. Patricia Lundstrom, who chairs the House Appropriations and Finance Committee.

“We believe there can be efficiencies having one contract, one website,” said Latham. She added that she has not researched the details because there is no legislation yet. “It’s still under discussion.”

But Lundstrom, D-Gallup, said she would approach the effort with caution.

“While both create jobs, at the end of the day they have a different focus,” she said. “I would have some very major concerns if this were done in a hasty way. It really needs to be publicly vetted.”

Contact Bruce Krasnow at 505-986-3034 or brucek@sfnewmexican.com