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Counties in NMSU's REDTT Program Enjoy High Tourist Income Growth

SOCORRO - The 12 counties in New Mexico State University's Rural Economic Development Through Tourism (REDTT) program registered a higher rate of revenue growth during the first half of this year than the state average, said Janet Green, secretary of the New Mexico Department of Tourism.

From January to June, taxable gross receipts in a Tourism Department index that includes hotel, amusement, recreation, and eating and drinking establishments grew by an average of 5.7 percent statewide, Green said. But in the 12 REDTT counties, the index grew by an average of 6.9 percent.

Tourism revenue reached $1.973 billion statewide, Green said. For the REDTT counties, it was $417 million, representing about 21 percent of the total.

"I think those REDTT counties are contributing to carrying the rest of the state in tourism growth," said Green, who was the keynote speaker at the annual REDTT conference in Socorro on Oct. 16-17. "The growth in REDTT areas has helped offset the decline that some of the northern counties experienced this year due to the warm winter and the fires in the latter part of the spring."

The REDTT program is run by NMSU's Cooperative Extension Service. It was originally funded in 1992 with support of U.S. Rep. Joe Skeen to provide technical assistance and education to help some southeastern New Mexico counties strengthen economic development by building local tourism.

Over the past eight years, REDTT has gradually expanded from five to 12 counties: Chaves, Cibola, DeBaca, Doņa Ana, Eddy, Lea, Lincoln, Luna, Otero, Sandoval, Sierra and Socorro. The newest counties are Luna and Sandoval, which joined the program at the start of the fiscal year April 1.

Green said nearly half of the REDTT counties registered double-digit growth in tourism income during the first six months of this year. Socorro topped the list with a 21.3 percent jump in the tourism index.

"They're really going after that tourism dollar in Socorro," Green said. "They just recently set up a local convention facility, which is where this year's REDTT conference was held, and they're now bringing in small meetings from all around the state."

Other counties with double-digit growth were Luna with 20.1 percent, Sierra with 19.5 percent, Sandoval with 14.4 percent and Doņa Ana with 12.9 percent.

The REDTT program has contributed to tourism growth in a variety of ways. REDTT staff, based in Las Cruces, have worked with tourism representatives and Extension staff in all the member counties to develop an inventory of tourism assets, and REDTT personnel have aggressively marketed those attractions.

REDTT has also provided free hospitality training for all workers who have contact with tourists, from hotel staff to gasoline attendants. About 4,000 people have received hospitality training since the REDTT program began.

And, REDTT staff have helped counties to develop festivals and special events that can be promoted as magnets for visitors. Festivals started with REDTT support include Lincoln County's Arts in the Orchard Festival, the Pecos Valley Chile and Cheese Festival and the Quilt Festival, Winter Fest in Fort Sumner, Christmas on the Pecos in Carlsbad and the Intergalactic Fashion Extravaganza in Roswell.

Of the program's $280,000 annual budget, about $78,000 is earmarked directly for the counties. Each member county receives $3,000 per year for local operating expenses, and each county can apply for up to $3,500 annually in mini-grants to finance promotional projects.

This year, Sandoval and Luna counties received mini-grants for tourist promotion. The Sandoval County Tourism Council will use the funds to erect banners and welcome signs in Cuba to draw in travelers on Highway 550. In Luna, welcome banners and signs will also be placed in Deming and Columbus, and the local tourism council will print promotional place mats for restaurants throughout the county.

This year, REDTT opened participation in its annual conference to delegates from nonmember counties to allow tourist industry representatives statewide to benefit, said REDTT director Mike Cook. As a result, about 135 people attended this year's conference, up from 36 last year.

"The conference attracted participants from a number of non-REDTT counties, including Bernalillo, McKinley, San Juan, Santa Fe, Taos and Torrance," Cook said. "The program is beginning to appeal to rural communities all over New Mexico."

Green said the conference offered an ideal opportunity for tourism representatives to learn from each other and to refine their tourism development plans and goals.

"It allows people working in tourism, and primarily in rural areas, to create synergy by getting communities and counties to work together," Green said. "The REDTT goal is to help develop visionary leadership and a good local plan of action, and then encourage the plan's implementation. We're just delighted to watch this program grow, and we look forward to a lot more success stories."