Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has announced a $25 million stimulus for the tourism industry designed to bring visitors back after the pandemic wanes. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

One of New Mexico’s hardest-hit industries may receive some economic relief in 2021 in the form of a $25 million stimulus package.

On Monday, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham proposed a special appropriation for New Mexico’s tourism industry in response to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

If approved during the 2021 legislative session, the new funding would support two additional seasonal advertising campaigns that would help the state compete for tourism dollars once the virus abates, according to Tourism Cabinet Secretary Jen Paul Schroer. Schroer said the campaigns, which would run during the 2022 fiscal year, could help shorten the timeline for an economic recovery.

“This appropriation brings new customers into New Mexico to stay at our lodging facilities, to experience different tours, to go to our restaurants,” Schroer said.

Few industries have been hurt more by the pandemic and associated shutdowns than tourism. As of September, New Mexico’s leisure and hospitality sector had lost 24,500 jobs year-over-year, nearly one-quarter of the total jobs in the industry. Air travel to and from New Mexico declined 78% year-over-year as of July, according to data from Visit Albuquerque.

Schroer said these losses are expected to cost the state an estimated $4.3 billion, in the form of lost visitor spending, lost state and local tax collections and other direct impacts.

“We know that our industry is hurting quite a bit, because it’s just not safe to travel,” Schroer said.

While Schroer said the appropriation doesn’t include direct support for businesses, she said it would allow the New Mexico Tourism Department to fund advertising campaigns for all four seasons, rather than just spring and winter campaigns. This would help the state better compete for tourists once they’re comfortable traveling again, which in turn would support hotels and other businesses and help the state maintain direct flights from other markets, Schroer said.

“These marketing dollars will help bring consumers back, and help resume consumer confidence at the appropriate time,” she said.

Jennifer Kimball, board chairman for La Fonda on the Plaza and chair of the New Mexico Tourism Commission, called the announcement “the first good news we have had since March.” Because of New Mexico’s stringent travel restrictions during the pandemic, Kimball said New Mexico will need to work to lure back tourists once it’s safer to travel.

“I think that’s what these dollars need to be spent on, is how to tell our story again,” Kimball said.

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