Summer gets longer and longer in Santa Fe.
It used to be that July and August, and maybe bits of June, were considered the summer tourist season. Now, it stretches from May to October, said Randy Randall, executive director at Tourism Santa Fe, the city’s convention and visitors bureau.
It may get longer yet after Travel + Leisure magazine on Wednesday named Santa Fe the No. 2 U.S. destination city for 2019. It ranked Santa Fe No. 14 in its listing of 15 Best Cities in the World.
But even before the latest anointing by Travel + Leisure in its annual readers’ survey, May and June have been mighty fine for tourist business in Santa Fe.
The city had its highest hotel room occupancy in May since records started being kept in 2011. Downtown hotels filled 80 percent of their rooms in May, and the occupancy rate citywide was 75.9 percent, Randall said.
He said he believes the record occupancy numbers from June last year — 86.2 percent downtown and 83 percent citywide — will be exceeded once the June 2019 numbers are determined.
Randall attributes strong Santa Fe tourism, in part, to doubling the Tourism Santa Fe advertising budget to $1.6 million since 2015 — much of it dedicated to promotion in neighboring states. Santa Fe also has seen a fivefold increase in earned media value since 2015 to $25 million — putting a dollar value to magazine, internet, newspaper, television and other media articles about Santa Fe, such as the new Travel + Leisure reader survey.
Tourism Santa Fe values the online listing of the Travel + Leisure awards at $21,095. The NBC Today show coverage of the Travel + Leisure awards is valued at $159,449, but no valuation has been placed yet on the August print edition of Travel + Leisure.
“While we all know what a terrific place Santa Fe is to visit, we have to let others know as well through the combination of paid advertising and stories written about experiences here,” Randall said. “The increased budget allows us to be more effective with a broader message. The third-party endorsements that generate the earned media are particularly effective in attracting visitors.”
Santa Fe may be an international destination, but it’s really a playground for Texans, Coloradans and Oklahomans. Randall said 52 percent of the spring stays at downtown hotels were by visitors from Texas, Denver, Colorado Springs, Oklahoma and Southern California.
That tallies with what merchants are seeing as well: Tourists are, in essence, neighbors.
“Texas by all means,” said Sam Gerberding, general manager at the Inn of the Governors. “A large contingent coming down from Denver. Some from Arizona and California. We get a brisk trade from Wisconsin and Minnesota.”
La Fonda on the Plaza’s parking garage has had an influx of Oklahoma license plates, general manager Rik Blyth said.
But tourism is always a flighty business, and some downtown merchants say they saw a softer June than May.
“We had a really good April and May,” said Josh Johns, co-owner Fire & Hops. “Our May was probably the busiest. Then there was the June swoon. Santa Fe mellows down a lot. Schools across the country haven’t let out yet. It’s really around the Fourth of July that we really get going. So far, we had a good spring.”
A similar dynamic was in play at the downtown cafe Mamunia, where owner Joe Garcia said the Texas-Colorado rush is in play, too: “Texas first and then Denver. After that a split between East Coast and West Coast.
“May was better than June for us, and July has been better than May,” Garcia said. “I think we’ll have a jump of 25 percent over last year. People are more confident about traveling this year.”
The same was true at the Inn of the Governors.
“May was fairly good,” Gerberding said. “June was virtually flat. We had an amazing year last year. To be flat against that is not bad at all.”
Gerberding said the city’s prime season will be solid, but tourists won’t necessarily fall in his lap.
“It looks to be the same as last year,” he said. “We have to tap dance a little more to keep it there. Last year, people were just booking. Overall demand for the city isn’t as strong as last year, when there were plenty of people to go around. This year is not quite as many people.”
There was no June swoon for La Fonda on the Plaza or the Inn of the Five Graces, the latter receiving many guests from New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, as well as the predictable influx from Texas and Colorado.
“We had 90 percent-plus occupancy in May and June, and June and July will be over 90 percent,” Blyth said. “It looks like we’ll be in the mid-90s through October.”
Blyth pulled out a secret weapon for the first five months of this year: group travel. He set aside 50 to 130 of La Fonda’s 180 rooms for state and national conferences and other group events.
“Before, if somebody wanted to take 100 rooms, we would normally not take them,” Blyth said. “Now we take them. That really paid off. “[In] September, we will bring groups back in again.”
New Mexico museums overseen by the Department of Cultural Affairs were all over the place with May and June attendance.
The Museum of International Folk Art was up 17 percent over the prior year; the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture was flat; the New Mexico Museum of Art saw a 9.9 percent jump. The New Mexico History Museum, meanwhile, saw attendance plummet 32.4 percent because of the August 2018 closure of the museum’s Palace of the Governors for renovations, said Shelley Thompson, a Cultural Affairs spokeswoman.
There are no vagaries at Meow Wolf, where the honeymoon period is in its fourth year.
Meow Wolf CEO Vince Kadlubek on July 5 posted on Facebook: “Woah! I’m getting reports that today is our busiest day EVER at Meow Wolf. Highest grossing revenue and most people through the door. … if 3 years ago you woulda told me that we’d still be having crowds like this, and that the company had 375 salaried employees with full benefits, I’d have thought you were crazy.”
Though Santa Fe’s summer and fall tourism staples — Traditional Spanish Market, Santa Fe Indian Market and Fiesta de Santa Fe — will always draw visitors, Randall said the Gran Fondo New York bicycle race was the new generator in May and could become the gift that keeps on giving. The event drew 303 riders, with half of them coming from out of state and 52 of those from Mexico.
“It’s a potential for that event to attract a much greater number of international riders,” Randall said. “We do anticipate at least 50 riders from Europe next year and double from Mexico. This has real potential to put Santa Fe on the map.”
As if it weren’t already.