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LA’s Strickfaden honored as year’s top tourism professional

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By Arin McKenna

Los Alamos native Georgia Strickfaden did not want to take the path of least resistance and work for Los Alamos National Laboratory or another big company, as so many of those she grew up with did.
After a stint as a school teacher, Strickfaden started Buffalo Tours in 1985, with a focus on introducing visitors to the remarkable history of her hometown. She eventually expanded into offering tours of the entire state, always trying to give her customers glimpses into aspects of New Mexico they might not be aware of.
The New Mexico Hospitality Association recently named Strickfaden the 2015 Tourism Professional of the Year. New Mexico Tourism Department Secretary Rebecca Latham − last year’s recipient − presented the award.
“It’s very nice, but very surprising that a little van tour company in Los Alamos would beat out all these others,” Strickfaden said.
The four other finalists for the award were Jennifer Bales, director of sale and service for the Las Cruces Convention & Visitors Bureau, Richard Holcomb, president of Cliff Dweller Digital video production company, Cynthia Delgado, director of marketing for Tourism Santa Fe and Jack Brennan, race director for Tour of the Gila bicycle race.
A tourism association in Arizona did the judging.
“2014 marked a record breaking year for tourism, adding $6.1 billion into New Mexico’s economy,” said Ed Pulsifer, director of sales for La Fonda on the Plaza and board chair for the New Mexico Hospitality Association. “Our finalists helped make this happen. They are all well deserving and we want to make sure that our statewide association recognizes their contributions.”
Strickfaden could only guess at why she won out over four other finalists.
“I think it’s longevity and a desire for people to learn and to be surprised and feel like they have become better people because they know more about a little place in New Mexico that’s so earthshaking,” Strickfaden said.
Strickfaden’s passion for her work is evident as she describes some of her offerings, such as a tour of the churches in Española Valley.
“These are people that have been here forever, and they come away saying, ‘I had no idea. This is so interesting. It gives me a whole new appreciation of the Española Valley.’ That’s what I like,” Strickfaden said.
Strickfaden tries to get people off the beaten path. She discourages those using her services to tour Taos and instead urges them to take “The Real New Mexico” tour, which visits several northern New Mexico pueblos and small Hispanic villages.
Strickfaden is developing a tour of the Valles Caldera National Preserve, now that the transfer to National Park Service management is providing more access for outside tour operators.
Strickfaden also enjoys working with other Los Alamos businesses and with Los Alamos County.
Every new hire at the county, from someone working at the landfill to the county manager, takes a half-day tour with Strickfaden during orientation.
“I tell them the history of the community,” Strickfaden said. “I also hit on the reaches of the county: what does the county administer, the schools, the public/private partnerships that we have here that are actually pretty unique, like PEEC (Pajarito Environmental Education Center) running the nature center… . So those are things that I try to emphasize, because a lot of times these new hires are not from the area who have never been here before.
“So it helps orient them to the community and hopefully get a feel for the people: who are we, how we’ve evolved and why we are as we are.”
Strickfaden tries to keep her prices low “because Los Alamos is not yet a destination,” although she has seen a definite uptick since WGN America launched its “Manhattan” series, a fictionalized account of the Manhattan Project.
Strickfaden has yet to see much interest in the new Manhattan Project National Historical Park.
“Local people don’t even know about the national historic park,” Strickfaden said.
Atomic City Van Tours depart most days at 1:30 p.m. from in front of the Bradbury Science Museum at 15th Street and Central Avenue. Call 662-3965 or go to buffalortoursla.com for more information.