Tourism department makes strong case for more ad money

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By Harold Morgan

An old marketing rule is that if the organization has a marketing problem, or perhaps an image problem, the problem should be attacked rather than being allowed to continue causing damage.
For our tourism businesses, the perception is that low wages somehow make the industry less worthy. Major contributions to the view come from an urban snootiness grounded in the “high wage, high tech” mantra mostly useful to Albuquerque and Santa Fe with some value in Las Cruces.
To be sure, entry-level jobs — the busers in restaurants, housekeepers in hotels—start low. One has to start somewhere. My first job was as a janitor. At least the people in these entry jobs are in the labor force, working, unlike bunches of New Mexicans.
To start a Nov. 20 summary budget presentation to the Legislative Finance Committee in Santa Fe, Secretary Monique Jacobson, of the Department of Tourism, stepped up to the issue. Nationally, she said, 20 percent of workers starting in the travel industry eventually earn $100,000 annually.
Jacobson came well equipped to bolster her main request that another $2.5 million be added to her advertising budget.
Tourism is “an economic development driver,” she said. Leisure and hospitality, the statistical job category that is the proxy for tourism, added 2,200 jobs in the year between October 2012 and October 2013. Jacobson estimates another 3,000 jobs will appear next year.
The sector employs 88,400 in wage jobs, third among the basic economy sectors and ahead of mining and manufacturing. The sector, which has grown year over year for months and months, is bigger than the numbers allow. Art dealers (galleries to you and me) are in retail with florists. But those galleries are a central part of tourism, as are the people who pack paintings for shipment, and the government employees of the Museum(s) of New Mexico in Santa Fe and national parks and monuments.
The new $2.5 million in ad money would take the budget to $7 million for the budget year (fiscal 2015) ending June 30, 2015. For the current budget year, the department’s $2 million ad increase meant a $4.5 million program.
We are continuing to build our momentum, Jacobson told the LFC. The $2 million increase was “the right amount this year,” allowing the department to increase promotion in “a smart and measured manner.”
Current department programs reach cities such as Dallas, Houston, Phoenix and Denver with Chicago a recent addition. The present campaign is a “fully integrated winter campaign,” perhaps the department’s first.
A new multi-media campaign with Southwest Airlines will target Southwest passengers when they plan the trip. Half the visitors that fly here fly on Southwest, Jacobson said.
All of the state’s regional tourism campaigns operate under the department’s New Mexico True “umbrella branding.” These promotions target people who drive to the state. The New Mexico True message now spreads across advertising from 27 communities. Taos, Gallup and Roswell show double-digit growth, Jacobson said.
The only downer for the Jacobson presentation came from Sen. Howie Morales, Silver City Democrat and candidate for governor. Morales, a career government guy, demonstrated no understanding about advertising.
A group of industry representatives told the LFC nice things about Jacobson and the Tourism Department. Chris Stagg of Taos Ski Valley, a long time senior figure (though not that old) in New Mexico tourism, put it this way. “Secretary Jacobson has done a remarkable job.”
Yep. And the Richardson administration’s lizards? No, not New Mexico True, not at all.