New Mexico Tourism Cabinet Secretary Monique Jacobson
New Mexico Tourism Cabinet Secretary Monique Jacobson (Augusta Liddic/The Daily Times)
FARMINGTON — Monique Jacobson, state tourism secretary, had one question for local officials Thursday morning, "Are you New Mexico True?"

The New Mexico True campaign is part of the tourism department's push to put New Mexico on the map for travelers across the U.S. Efforts to coordinate with local tourism agencies across the state, such as Farmington's Convention and Visitors Bureau, are already underway.

"We have momentum in this right now," Jacobson said. "We want people spending more money here. New Mexico unfortunately is a pass-through state."

By working with local tourism agencies, she hopes to get individual communities to highlight what makes them attractive and unique travel destinations, and produce a coordinated, focused travel campaign across New Mexico.

This renewed focus, Jacobson hopes, will get more people to spend more time in state rather than simply driving through it on their way to Colorado, Arizona or Texas, she said.

New Mexico is currently the 38th-most visited state and attracts less than 1 percent of travelers in the U.S., she said.

Even with those low numbers, tourism generates about $5.5 billion per year statewide, Jacobson said.

But Thursday's presentation to Farmington city officials and convention and visitors bureau staff showed some signs of hope.

There has been a 12.

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4 percent increase in real tourism leading to the creation of between 2,000 and 3,000 new jobs per year across the state, Jacobson said.

"These are good jobs," she said. "You can come in as an entry-level employee and learn skills, then work your way up."

But a lack of focus in local tourism agencies across the state has made implementing the campaign a bit of a challenge, and presents a fragmented picture of the state that makes attracting visitors more difficult, she said.

Each community wants to present itself as being "the best at everything" rather than highlighting "what they do best," Jacobson said.

"We're not just going to fund the (tourism) industry," she said. "We're going to unify it."

In addition, New Mexico's overall ruggedness and the remoteness of some of its communities make it unappealing to some tourists, she said. The tourists it attracts tend to be what she called "venturesome travelers."

These travelers are looking for adventure and journeys that take them off the beaten path, Jacobson said.

Overall, however, New Mexico's largest obstacle to increasing tourism is a perception that there is nothing to do and nothing to see, she said.

Quantitative data collected from focus groups surveyed in Chicago, Houston and Los Angeles backs up that perception of New Mexico.

In the study, which was part of Thursday's presentation, each group spoke emphatically about Colorado, but did not know much about New Mexico.

Many of those questioned had never visited New Mexico, or had only driven through. Some focus group members said that the state attracts "artsy" types but is very boring overall.

"They have no idea of what we have to offer," Jacobson said. "What we need to do is let them know that New Mexico is a lot more sight-doing than sightseeing. You're interacting with history. The journey is part of the experience."

That lackluster perception is even held among state residents, Jacobson said.

"We know that we need New Mexicans to fall in love with their state again," she said. "It's critical that they become brand ambassadors."

The New Mexico True campaign has shown some early signs of success, Jacobson said.

"For every $1 we spent we returned $3," she said.

The state's repeat visit rates, however, are 39.2 percent, below the average of 51.2 percent in competing states, Jacobson said.

As part of the campaign, Jacobson and her team are driving to a number of communities across the state, spending about $600 per trip.

"That's part of the fun of it," she said. "We're able to stop along the way."

The campaign cost about $1.2 million overall, and Jacobson's department is receiving $4.5 million in advertising funds, up from $2.5 million last year.

Farmington officials latched on to Thursday's presentation and its message — that New Mexico is a land of adventure and authentic culture.

"It's so great to be working with them," said Tonya Stinson, Farmington Convention and Visitors Bureau executive director. "Those efforts locally are already in place. We're going to do a ramp up and we're stronger if we work together. We are on board with the strategic message. This is the most positive message at the state level. There's definitely a renewed energy in the office."

Cory Styron, Farmington's new Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs director, said he is looking forward to working with the campaign's message.

"I find it interesting, being new to the area," he said. "I'm sad to say that I was one of those people that said there was nothing to do in New Mexico."

But that was before he moved to the area earlier this year, he said.

"There are a lot of cool things to do," Styron said. "We're all in this together."

Greg Yee can be reached at gyee@daily-times.com; 505-564-4606. Follow him on Twitter @GYeeDT.