If there’s anything that Americans love more than the flag, apple pie and the Fourth of July, it’s traveling. With COVID restrictions easing in most places, American’s are eager to hit the road to take in the sights and sounds of all of our favorite “not here” destinations. But in a state with as much to see and do as New Mexico, we might want to consider sticking around instead. This Independence Day, AAA estimates that over 47.7 million Americans will have traveled by road, rail and air—which is the second-highest travel volume on record after 2019 and about 13 million more than in 2020.
Tourism can be the catalyst to any post-pandemic recovering economy and is a key driver in business sales, employment and tax revenue. According to a report published by the New Mexico Department of Tourism (NMDT), visitors to New Mexico in 2019 spent $7.4 billion. That generated $10.4 billion in total business sales and $1.5 billion in tax revenues, with $737 million accruing to state and local governments. All of that visitor-spending was disbursed across multiple industries including $2.4 billion in lodging, $1.7 billion in food and beverage, $1.3 billion in retail, $1.2 billion in transportation and $971 million in recreation.
Tourism in New Mexico is also a job creator and sustainer. The same NMDT report indicates that a total of 96,064 jobs were sustained by visitors to New Mexico in 2019, with approximately 8.6 percent of jobs in the state impacted by tourism in some way. If residents, not just visitors, were to support these industries by keeping their vacation dollars local to New Mexico, our state’s recovery would happen more quickly and to the benefit of many more local businesses and residents.
The dip in tourism in 2020 as a result of the pandemic saw massive job losses across hotels and other ancillary industries. An analysis by the American Hotel & Lodging Association estimates that, just in New Mexico, over 14,400 direct hotel-related jobs were lost and over 24,300 jobs were lost that supported the hotel industry. Lauren Kemner, marketing manager of Los Poblanos Historic Inn & Organic Farm, recalls, “As COVID was hitting, we closed lodging, dining and event operations on March 17 [of 2020]. The inn reopened in mid-May and operated at limited capacity until Bernalillo hit the Turquoise Level and occupancy limitations were limited for N.M. Safe-Certified properties.”
Now, with people on the move again, tourism is back on the rise, and historic inns like Los Poblanos are once again serving guests at maximum capacity. “Lately, we are thrilled to have a completely full house,” said Kemner. “We’ve just opened the Hacienda Spa, located in the historic Hacienda, which is one of John Gaw Meem’s residential masterpieces.”
For anyone looking for ways to support the local New Mexico economy this year and have a great time doing it, the NMDT offers a very thorough breakdown of ideas and destinations, ranging from food tours to ghost towns to national parks and from museums to outdoor adventure to Native American culture. Consider avoiding the crowded airports and highways this year. (Gas prices are over $3.10 per gallon nationally on average, anyway.) Instead, keep it local and enjoy a New Mexico staycation.