Tourism secretary had a plan

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Campaign helped divert attention from fires

By Sherry Robinson

In July as the state’s forests, along with its tourism season, seemed to be going up in smoke, the industry anxiously awaited a move from Santa Fe to counter bad publicity.
They wondered aloud if Tourism Secretary Monique Jacobson had a game plan.
She did. Rather than calling more attention to the fires, she took another approach – the “Catch the Kid” campaign.
Don’t expect the same old thing from Jacobson, a home-grown marketer hired away from Quaker Oats to breathe life into tourism promotion. She grew up in the business – her father’s a hotelier in Taos Ski Valley – and honed her skills out of state. Now she’s back with energy, ideas and infectious enthusiasm.
Recently I watched her seize the attention of a roomful of power players made grumpy by economic news.
By the end of the meeting, everybody was on board, and I could swear they even had a spring in their steps.
Jacobson began with the bad news: New Mexico is 38th in the nation for tourist visitation. Tourists drive through here on their way to other destinations.
The average age of visitors here is above the national average, and their spending is below.
“We should be in the top five, or at least the top 20 destinations,” Jacobson said. “It’s an absolute crime when you think about what we have to offer.
People passing through aren’t falling in love with New Mexico. We’re not written up in social media.
“Within 12 years, one-fourth of our visitors will have expired. I’ve worked on oatmeal, and I’ve seen what happens,” she said to laughs from a graying audience.
“We need to find the right people who will spend more money,” the marketer asserts.
She’s conducted focus groups in Houston, Los Angeles, Chicago and Albuquerque and is now honing in on “the mindset of the traveler who has fallen in love with New Mexico.”
Those are adventurous travelers who want to do rather than see and crave authenticity.
Behind the scenes, Jacobson is weaning her staff from tourism services to moving to tourism generation. She’s asked them all to “elevate their game.”
For the industry and state, she has two messages:
•Don’t expect the department to be all things to all communities. The approach will be targeted, not shotgun.
“We have got to stop viewing each other in New Mexico as competitors,” she says. “We have got to elevate New Mexico as a whole.”
Hear, hear! After years of each community jealously watching what the state spends on its behalf, it’s nice to hear somebody remind them they’re all in this together.
•She won’t be asking the legislature for more money until she knows the department is making the best use of the budget it has.
“We will never have the money to compete with some states. We will be more creative. Money will not be an excuse.”
Asking for a bigger promotion budget is a yearly mantra for tourism people – I’ve beaten that drum myself in this column – and yet I found myself nodding my head.
Convinced New Mexico needed a quick tactical win, she unfurled Catch The Kid to boost visitation to 10 communities.
For about $630,000, the campaign signed up more than 2,000 posses – half from here, half from out of state – and the department can track their spending.
The website, www.CatchTheKid.com, alone is pretty entertaining.
Impressed by Jacobson’s passion for the state, I couldn’t help but contrast this can-do secretary with her can’t-do counterpart in economic development.
Secretary Jon Barela isn’t young and blonde, but the real difference is that Jacobson isn’t running for office.
It’s full speed ahead, no excuses. Barela, still blaming the Obama administration for challenges as he did during his campaign for congress, finds many excuses.
When Monique Jacobson closed, her audience was ready to accept her invitation to go explore the state. Now that’s marketing.

Sherry Robinson
© New Mexico News
Services 2011