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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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Towns Must Create Tempting Lures for Tourists

DEMING - To reel in more tourists, New Mexico towns must use the right bait, a tourism expert says.

Participants in "Making Tracks Along the Border," the 2005 Rural Tourism Conference, cheer on their ducks in a special race set up for the annual conference in April. The Great American Duck Race brings crowds of tourists to Deming each August. (05/23/2005) (NMSU Agricultural Communications Photo Darrell J. Pehr)

"What do you have that I can't get closer to home?" asks Roger Brooks of Destination Development of Olympia, Wash. "That is so critical. You must be different." For example, Bavarian architecture, festivals and shops bring millions of visitors each year to the town of Leavenworth, Wash., population 2,000.

"Always promote the lure first," Brooks says, suggesting towns focus on a single attraction. "This is the age of specialization like never before. The more you have to offer, the farther people will travel and the longer they will stay."

Brooks' rule of thumb is that communities have activities and sights that take four times as much time to visit as it takes visitors to reach. For example, a four-hour visit to Rock Hound State Park, near Deming, would attract visitors willing to drive about an hour, which could include people from Las Cruces and Silver City. To attract people from Albuquerque, a three-hour drive, the park must offer attractions that take 12 hours to see.

Brooks was a keynote speaker at the recent Rural Tourism Conference at the Mimbres Valley Special Events Center. The annual conference, organized by New Mexico State University's Rural Economic Development Through Tourism project, drew about 200 government officials and people from the tourism industry. REDTT director Dora Dominguez said the 13-year-old project is guided by REDTT councils in 17 New Mexico counties in a collaborative effort that generates economic development for many small communities.

Michael Cerletti, cabinet secretary of the New Mexico Department of Tourism, says tourism is now the largest private sector employer in the state, with 80,000 jobs, and second largest private sector industry, bringing in $4 billion a year.

Cerletti says a new emphasis is to keep residents in New Mexico.

"We're trying to promote New Mexico to New Mexicans," who make up the second largest market for New Mexico destinations, he says. "So it's important to promote to our own. If they don't come, they will spend that money elsewhere." Especially important in attracting New Mexicans is the promotion of events in less familiar places, a key function of the REDTT program.

Many people get information about the state through the department's Web site, www.newmexico.org, which generates 4.9 million hits a year.

About 1 million people entering New Mexico from neighboring states stop at the department's nine visitor information centers. Cerletti says new centers in Gallup and Glenrio will open in November. Most of those who stop at centers are from Texas, California, Arizona, Oklahoma and Colorado, but tourists from Florida, Illinois and Michigan also visit.

A report prepared for Cerletti's department shows a 4-percent tourism increase in New Mexico in 2004 and an estimated 4-percent jump this year. Increases in international visitors are expected to reach 8 to 9 percent, partially due to the weak dollar. Most international visitors come from Japan, Australia and Western Europe. Especially important is continuing to encourage visitors from Mexico and Canada, he says.

Cerletti says people in the tourism industry can help by communicating with his department, promoting events on New Mexico Magazine's online community calendar and assisting the department's media familiarization tours with free meals and lodging. Feedback about the department's tourism promotion efforts, especially from communities that have visitor information centers, can help the department be as effective as possible.

"People think whether we promote tourism or not, they will come," Cerletti says. "Wrong. One of the difficulties with tourism is that people don't know how important it is. At the end of the day, we don't have a product."