Thank God for Texans and their money.
Texans help explain the 3.3 percent growth of leisure and hospitality wage jobs over the past year, say hospitality executives. The situation offers a big, "nnaahhh, so there!" to those who whined about the state Tourism Department choosing an ad agency based in (gasp!) Austin. As in Texas.
Around Taos, Texans are making life economically better, but things have not returned to the peak of 2007. Silver City gets fewer Californians than in the past, though Alaskans come. Activity is generally fairly good. Bus tours and RV owners are coming back. Along the Turquoise Trail drive north from I-40 to Santa Fe, business is pretty good. New York is one source of visitors.
These impressions come from conversations at the Governor's Conference on Tourism, held in Albuquerque in early May.
Conference sponsors ranged from the corporately huge to the sort of very small business that seldom generates a headline. ConocoPhillips was the big guy. A couple of years ago, the company decided it should talk to the people around it. Given that tourism people talk to many others, and given that ConocoPhillips is the state's leading oil and gas producer, talking to tourism people seemed obvious.
The little guy of the moment is Convention Services of the Southwest, of Albuquerque. For 17 years, Marcel Lucero, president, and the handful of employees have produced conventions, trade shows, and corporate and special events across the nation.
Monique Jacobson, Tourism Department Secretary, and her digital media manager, Jordan Guenther, closed the meeting with a 90-minute review of the "New Mexico True" campaign unveiled a year ago. Their presentation was punctuated with loud applause from the audience of tourism business people, a huge contrast with the unhappy, incredulous, under-the-breath muttering that greeted the lizard (or alien) campaign a Los Angeles agency created a few years ago for the Richardson administration.
For those not quite connecting with the New Mexico True campaign, it works by posing across a picture a true-false proposition about the state such as, "A state can make a lasting impression on you and you on it." Then there is a check in the box for "true," followed by the tagline, "New Mexico True." A subsidiary tag is, "Adventure that feeds the soul begins here." The broad theme is adventure steeped in culture.
Jacobson said "14 communities have come on board" with the campaign with 17 more expected this year. Among other benefits, communities get material enabling them to create customized New Mexico True themed advertising.
The campaign has worked, luring new visitors, department research shows. Effective advertising (not stupid lizard advertising) and more visitors go together like love and marriage, as Debbie Reynolds once sang.
The success turned into a $2 million jump in the ad budget for the budget year starting July 1 (cue applause). Attention will go to niche markets such as luring golfers to "our stunning golf courses." Such tourism already exists, I can testify.
Social media use will expand. The department website, newmexico.org, shows Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Pinterest as social media channels. Guenther mentioned several specialized social media sites unknown to me.
The Jacobson review closed with endorsement of a contest and an independently developed song, "Feels Like Home," by Heath Warren and Nate Boitano of Albuquerque. They call themselves, "Richmond." It is available through iTunes. Richmond's Facebook location is www.facebook.com-/pages/Richmond-Music.
The contest has the business objective of increasing in-state travel and of bringing residents into the New Mexico True effort. The idea, newmexico.org says, is that people "Tell us your story. Your New Mexico True story could win $5,000." The contest, open to anyone, runs through Aug. 4. It might be fun. That's the idea.
Harold Morgan has tracked the New Mexico economy for decades. He was editor for 20 years and publisher for four years of Progress, a business newsletter and was the founding editor of the New Mexico Business Journal.