New Mexico is seeing steady tourism growth, and it might be well-positioned to take advantage of lower gasoline prices as more travelers seek domestic destinations for leisure trips, an expert who studies national tourism trends said Tuesday.
Tourism is a driver of the state economy because increased spending by travelers is a nationwide trend, said Christopher Pike, director of research at Tourism Economics, the Pennsylvania-based research group that did an analysis for the state.
Gov. Susana Martinez, in an appearance at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, released the report, called “The Economic Impact of Tourism in New Mexico.” The Balloon Fiesta, which brings more than 800,000 visitors a year, is one example of a particular event or experience that draws tourists to the state.
The report says tourism supports nearly 89,000 jobs in the state — 10 percent of those in Santa Fe County — and injected $6.1 billion into New Mexico’s economy in 2014, a new record, according to Martinez.
“Tourism plays a critical role in diversifying our state’s economy. When more people visit New Mexico, more dollars go directly into our communities, and that results in more jobs and better opportunities for our families,” Martinez said at the Anderson-Abruzzo International Balloon Museum. “I’m proud to say that the direct impact that tourism has on our state’s economy is greater than we’ve ever seen before.”
Tourism generated 11 percent of all new jobs in New Mexico between 2011 and 2014, according to the report, and spending from travel jumped 4.5 percent from 2013.
Pike said tourism rebounded faster on the East Coast in 2011 and 2012, and some of that is now rippling to the West, including New Mexico, as the economy improves nationwide.
“You’re seeing a continuation of growth across the United States. The fact that you’re seeing visitation and visitor spending increases is a positive across the board,” Pike said. He added that the boost in spending in New Mexico “is a good healthy number compared with other markets.”
He said the firm used data on visitor trips from an earlier analysis by Longwoods International that showed some 32 million annual visits a year to New Mexico. Fifty-four percent were day trips by in-state residents who traveled more than 50 miles from their home.
But it also looked at independent data points not just from visitor surveys, but hard data from hotel reports about room rates and occupancy levels, as well as statistics from localities that collect fees on overnight hotel and motel stays, known as the lodgers tax.
Tourism Economics has worked with data from some 200 communities, and Pike said in-state travel numbers tend to be even higher on the East Coast, where 60 percent of tourism can come from residents within a state.
“A lot of tourism is going to be local. If someone goes into Albuquerque and goes out to eat or stays overnight, that’s a leisure trip,” he said.
According to the economic impact analysis:
• Tourism supports 1 in 12 jobs in the state, about 8.2 percent
• Traveler spending has grown five straight years, increasing 4.5 percent in 2014
• The visitor economy has grown 10.3 percent since 2011, and the domestic market accounts for 89 percent of all visitor spending in New Mexico.
• International visits account for 1.9 percent of trips, but 11 percent of the spending, as foreign travelers stay longer and spend more money.
• 22 percent of all visitor spending is on food and beverages; 20 percent on lodging.
• New Mexico has 50,000 seasonal homes, which account for 11 percent of the visitor spending.
The analysis also featured a county-by-county breakdown.
Santa Fe County is one of the most tourism-dependent in the state, with 16 percent of its jobs, about 9,800, coming directly or indirectly from tourism.
Pike said New Mexico is a destination dominated by domestic leisure travelers, rather than business travelers or convention-goers, and should see more of a bounce from lower gas prices than other places. He also said the state should get a boost from economic improvements in nearby states such as Colorado.
“If the distances are longer, you’re going to see increased travel if there are lower transportation costs,” he said. “If there is a decline in the cost of travel, we should see people spend more in restaurants.”
Contact Bruce Krasnow at firstname.lastname@example.org.
On the Web
• The Tourism Economics report is available at nmtourism.org.