Will anybody be coming to Santa Fe by July and August?
As COVID-19 wreaks havoc on the state’s travel and tourism industries, the Santa Fe Opera and Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival remain on the fence about what to do with their July-August seasons.
But the travel forecasts through the Albuquerque International Sunport, a main hub for those choosing to head to Santa Fe, are grim through June.
The April to June forecast is for 30 percent fewer flights than last year — a number Sunport spokeswoman Stephanie Kitts describes as “huge” and “unprecedented.”
“Even during 9/11, we weren’t seeing numbers like that,” Kitts said.
Kitts said United Airlines is projected at 64 percent fewer flights through Albuquerque through June, and United is still slashing flights as the airline wants to fly only 10 percent of its usual schedule.
The decrease in flights doesn’t reflect how few passengers are on the remaining flights.
The Transportation Security Administration at the Albuquerque airport last week screened 200 to 300 people per day — and that included airport employees. Normally it’s 6,000 to 7,000 screenings per day, Kitts said.
The U.S. Travel Association reports the industry is experiencing an impact from the novel coronavirus that is nine times greater than the 9/11 attacks.
Biweekly online surveys done for the association determined 90 percent of the 1,200 people surveyed had travel planned before COVID-19 and 80 percent canceled those plans.
The question is, even if all restrictions are lifted fairly quickly, will the older demographic more likely to attend opera and chamber music concerts — and the most vulnerable to COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus — be willing to travel as soon as this summer?
AARP has not surveyed members about post-crisis travel and encourages people to follow their state’s guidelines, said Beth Velasquez associate state director of communications in New Mexico.
Though concerns over the virus wiped out key summertime events — the International Folk Art Market, Traditional Spanish Market and Santa Fe Indian Market have already called off their 2020 mass gatherings — Tourism Santa Fe Executive Director Randy Randall believes the city will have a good summer if all restrictions are lifted. But that comes with a huge caveat.
“Even if the restrictions are gone, people are still going to be afraid to fly,” Randall said. “We are relying almost entirely on the drive market for summer.”
Santa Fe travel agent Terry Williams-Keffer, who owns Westwind Travel, believes many people in their 70s and 80s are “probably going to stay hunkered down” even after social-distancing restrictions are lifted.
“I don’t think there is going to be that much impetus to travel in July and August,” she said. “I think July and August may be a little too early for many.”
Santa Fe Opera did not respond to interview requests from The New Mexican, but on April 6 posted on its website “it is too soon to predict the future of the 2020 season. Over the course of the next month, we hope to have greater clarity on public gatherings and travel in July and August.”
The opera season runs July 3 to Aug. 29.
Though the Santa Fe Symphony canceled its summer program Tuesday, the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival remains on the books for July 19 to Aug. 24. The festival’s board of directors met Saturday to map out different scenarios if restrictions remain in place in the coming months, said Executive Director Steven Ovitsky.
The board considered staging the season as is, two options for shortening the festival, or canceling it.
“We’re still not at the point right now of pulling the plug today,” Ovitsky said.
The next milestone for Ovitsky is when Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announces a decision on whether to continue current restrictions beyond April 30.
“May 1 is our first target date, then we look at May 15,” Ovitsky said about evaluating the season. “Then the big decision will be if we should even open in July. How will people feel about attending gatherings and concerts?”
Ovitsky has been conferring regularly with local arts groups and other summer chamber music festivals across the country that draw many of the same artists.
“I will talk to public health officials I know,” Ovitsky said. “We would have to address if things are open in summer, but people will be so careful about going to large gatherings.”
Also, the International Shakespeare Center in Santa Fe has rescheduled May performances of Coriolanus and Julius Caesar to July “in the hopes of being able to perform.”
The center’s second Santa Fe Summer Shakespeare festival is suspended, likely until 2021, although “some productions may happen in summer if all goes well.”