LEADERSHIP ALBUQUERQUE: An Interesting Time to Hear from Tourism Leaders and Industry Innovators

Last Tuesday, Leadership Albuquerque dug into the tourism and hospitality industry to learn how the successful “New Mexico True” state brand was born, understand how the industry has been impacted by COVID-19 and what recovery might look like, explore the fast-evolving world of manned space flight and space tourism, and more. In its morning session, the Leadership Albuquerque class heard from former New Mexico Tourism Department Secretary Monique Jacobson, Visit Albuquerque President and CEO Tania Armenta, and Chief Space Officer of Virgin Galactic George Whitesides.

Jacobson emphasized the importance of building a strong state identity grounded in what it can uniquely offer and a real awareness of the challenges that lie in its way. She described the difficulty of overcoming out-of-state tourists’ ideas of what New Mexico was–namely, a stop on their way somewhere else – by relentlessly defining New Mexico as a place of “adventure steeped in culture,” a destination of unmatched authenticity, and a place where “do-ers” can thrive. By all accounts, the “New Mexico True” brand has been very successful, driving eight years of record-breaking tourism growth in our state. 

Armenta addressed the blows COVID-19 has dealt to the tourism and hospitality industry in our city and state. 2020 was poised to be a big year for the industry in Albuquerque, with the City set to host a number of high-profile meetings and events, like the speech and debate competition that could have brought up to 20,000 visitors. Instead, the pandemic has cost the New Mexico economy approximately $400 million per month. She also suggested some policy changes that could help expedite the industry’s recovery, like a shift away from a blanket quarantine of 14 days or an increase from the 50% occupancy limit on hotels, which have proven not to be a significant source of spread. (Keep reading to see how the industry might have gotten its wish, or at least a step in the right direction.)

map showing how the pandemic has affected the country

Armenta also described the ways the pandemic has changed travel and tourism. A survey conducted in mid-August showed that most traveling Americans are doing so to spend time with loved ones, get away from crowds, and enjoy nature, priorities that seem well-suited to circumstances that have kept people cooped up as they work and learn from home and prevented them from seeing family that live a plane ride away. But all told, in spite of the slight recovery the tourism and hospitality industry has already experienced, it could take years for it to truly return to the pre-COVID “normal.”

To round out the morning, George Whitesides of Virgin Galactic discussed exciting innovations in commercial space flight, praised New Mexico for choosing to lead in this field, and gave the class a glimpse into the timeline and plans for space travel from our Spaceport. Virgin Galactic’s influence on the state’s economy has already been catalytic (the company works with more than 75 New Mexican suppliers), but its impact to date likely pales in comparison to what the economic impact in New Mexico will be once our state becomes the epicenter of commercial space travel.

In the second half of the day, former GACC Board of Directors Chair and CEO of the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center Mike Canfield shared a presentation about New Mexico’s rich tribal history and the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center itself–both of which are a draw for tourists visiting New Mexico. Starting with New Mexico’s indigenous people’s history that dates back to 1000 BC, Canfield described the Center’s importance in supporting tribal communities and educating the world.

Finally, the group heard from a panel comprised of Chris Stagg, Vice President, Taos Ski Valley, Inc. and Taos Ski Valley Councilor; Axie Navas, Director, Outdoor Recreation Division, NM Economic Development Department; and Michael Sullivan, Senior Policy Advisor for U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich and “Great American Outdoors Act” Expert. Each one discussed their organization’s contribution to the outdoor economy in New Mexico, which remains more important than ever as people look for ways to safely “escape” quarantine for a few hours of fresh air.

The 2020 class will graduate in October, and we anticipate launching the Class of 2021 in November. To learn more about Leadership Albuquerque 2021, please contact Margarita Rodriguez-Corriere at mcorriere@greaterabq.com.

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