The number of domestic visitors to New Mexico rose by almost 5 percent from 2010 to 2011, according new data from the Department of Tourism, giving a needed boost to the state's hospitality industry.
Tourism Secretary Monique Jacobson said at a Friday conference of the Tourism Association of New Mexico that the state is attracting the "right people," who spent more money here last year than the year before.
"They are coming in bigger groups, they are staying longer and they are spending more money," she told a crowd of tourism and travel executives at the Sheraton Uptown in Albuquerque.
The average group size for travelers was just more than three, up from just fewer than three. Visitors stayed an average of 3.89 nights away from home, up from 3.64 nights, and spent $755.87, an increase from $691.28 the year before, Jacobson said.
The visits to the state, 31.2 million in 2011 compared with 29.7 million in 2010, are at the highest level since 2008. The number includes visitors who don't stay overnight and are just passing through the state. Of those trips, 97 percent were domestic travelers and 84 percent were for leisure. Those visitors' expenditures accounted for $5.5 billion in revenue in 2011, an increase over the $5.2 billion spent the year before. At the same time, the number of tourists who stayed overnight rose almost 6 percent, from 13.7 million in 2010 to 14.5 million in 2011, Jacobson said.
All those people visiting from other states meant a lot of jobs for New Mexicans. In the second quarter of 2012, there were 2,700 more people employed in the industry than the second quarter of 2011, Jacobson said. "That's 2,700 families who are being supported because of what we are doing in tourism," she said. If it weren't for those jobs, Jacobson said, the state's unemployment rate would be 17 percent instead of 7 percent.
"People think tourism is fun and fluffy, and it is all those things, but it's absolutely critical to the economy," she told the crowd. "The jobs you guys do are critical to this economy in New Mexico and to people's livelihood."
Tourism and hospitality job growth has led other sectors in the state recently, according to information from the state's Department of Workforce Solutions. Other sectors that grew included the education and health sectors, which added 1,000 jobs. Many other sectors posted losses during the past year, including the professional and business services industries, which lost 3,200 jobs.
"In this state, it is absolutely critical that we grow jobs, that we decrease that unemployment rate," Jacobson said, "and what we are seeing is that tourism is doing our fair share to do that."
Jacobson said tourism also accounted for $1.2 billion in tax revenue in 2011, according to new data released by the department.
Because of that revenue, the average person is paying $747 less in taxes for the same benefits, she said. "It's almost like these tourists come in here, they are writing you a check at the border for $747 that you are just able to put back into your pocket. ... You otherwise wouldn't have that money if it weren't for tourists here," she said.
The two-day conference, which ended Friday, came after the department launched its New Mexico True campaign, a multimedia advertising blitz aimed at attracting more visitors.
Jacobson said early indicators are that the campaign has been successful and the department plans to ask the Legislature for additional funding next year. The department is working on a study to measure the return on its investment in the campaign, she said.
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