Muhamed Abdelhack covers business and economy for The Paper. He is a communications and journalism graduate of UNM.

For all of its faults, New Mexico remains quite a magical place, and for those who get it, the moniker of “The Land of Enchantment” couldn’t be more true (New Mexico True, as it were). Now, after a substantial hit in 2020, the state tourism department is hoping to reignite the spark to attract people looking for a post-COVID escape. Their plan is not without hurdles, however. The largest being the request for $25 million in special appropriations, which is currently hung up with the House Appropriations and Finance Committee.  

As cited by the New Mexico Department of Tourism (NMDT) in their appeal to legislators, the global travel data aggregator Tourism Economics estimates that, as a result of state and national travel restrictions over the past year, New Mexico lost an average of $366 million per month in visitor spending. That has also resulted in an estimated loss of $163 million in state and local taxes. The impact of these losses can be felt even more broadly with the NMDT listing that, as of last November, an estimated 30,000 people were laid off across numerous tourism-adjacent businesses such as accommodations and food services. When factored together — the loss of visitor spending, loss of tax revenues and the payout of unemployment benefits — the projected cost to the state for all of 2020 is estimated at $4.3 billion.

Through the $25 million special appropriation included in the governor’s budget recommendation for FY22, a budget which would start in July, the NMDT hopes to restore and revitalize the tourism industry while giving New Mexico a competitive voice as people begin their post-COVID travel planning. “The $25 million special appropriation is a targeted investment in tourism recovery that will keep New Mexico competitive and will help kickstart our economy when we can begin to promote travel again,” said Cabinet Secretary Jen Paul Schroer. The plans include a media blitz in order to leverage New Mexico’s four marketable seasons through yearlong campaigns. Additionally, the plan allows New Mexico to remain competitive with other states as tourism ramps up. The hope is to reduce the anticipated tourism recovery timeline from seven years to three years—all the while putting 27,000 people back to work. 

To help people understand the level of impact that tourism in New Mexico has suffered during the pandemic, the NMDT has released a data dashboard, which highlights a Tourism Injury Index. Through a color-coded map, the index breaks down how the damage to tourism impacts different counties across the state. Additionally, the index highlights how quickly, or not so quickly, those counties are expected to recover. Santa Fe, Bernalillo and Socorro counties rank among the worst hit. The index also points out that 12 of New Mexico’s 33 counties rely on visitor spending to support more than 15 percent of their workforce. 

Another hurdle facing the department of tourism are the travel restrictions. Currently, anyone traveling into New Mexico from the continental United States must quarantine for 14 days. There has been no indication that this restriction, one of the toughest in the country, will be lifted anytime soon. With more than a month left in the 60-day legislative session, this might give lawmakers time to observe developments in the state’s COVID status with vaccine rollout.

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