By Mary Alice Murphy
Jen Schoroer, New Mexico Hospitality Association president and chief executive officer, traveled to Silver City on Monday, Sept. 25, 2017, to hold a Tourism Summit featuring a panel of local residents involved in marketing the area.
The panelists included Jessica Etcheverry, community projects director for Luna County; Sabrina Pack, principal and chief executive officer of SkyWest media; Becky O'Connor, owner of Casitas de Gila Guesthouses and Art Gallery; Rita Garcia, interim park superintendent for the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument; and Michelle Muñoz, Holiday Inn Express general manager.
"Tourism is an economic driver," Shoroer said. "In New Mexico, tourism employs more than 100,000 people. You here have diversified. And I would like to thank Scott Terry for hosting us here at your conference center."
Travel trends show how an area is doing over time. "Tourism brings money from outside to benefit New Mexico."
In the PowerPoint presentation, statistical graphs were shown. Gross receipt tax for Silver City and Grant County accommodations and food services hit a high in 2015 and went down slightly in 2016. However, the GRT hit a new high in 2016 for art, entertainment and recreation firms.
Lodgers' tax hit a high in 2015, with a slight downturn in 2016. The high for the number employed in accommodations in Grant County was in 2007, with 200 employed. After a large decline, in 2015, it has climbed back up to 191. However, percentage-wise after a low in 2013 at 1.5 percent, it hit a new high percentage at 2.75 percent in 2015.
The number of lodging establishments hit a high of 18 from 2007 to 2010, but has dropped to 15 in 2013, 2014 and 2015.
The number of leisure and hospitality employees in Grant County hit its high in the first quarter of 2007, with 1059. The number in the first quarter of 2017 was 909. The share of employment at its high in 2007, with 16.8 percent, but has gone down and back up slightly to 14.8 percent in 2016.
The number of leisure and hospitality establishments has also fluctuated. The high of 89 happened in 2007, has gone down and up, but now stands at 79.
"We are looking into the short-term rental market, Air BNB and others," Shoroer said. "Some are not registering as a business, and there may be safety issues. We took it on in the last legislative session to make sure it is fair and equitable to the lodging industry. The short-term rentals have a 12 percent to 16 percent advantage if they don't pay gross receipts taxes and Lodgers' tax. It's not fair. It passed both houses but the governor vetoed it."
Bruce Ashburn asked why they weren't pursuing it again, if it passed both houses. Shoroer said the governor might opt to veto it again, "so we're waiting until there is a new governor."
Schoroer said the state Tourism Department closed several visitor centers last year, "so we have seen a dip in visitors this year. The ones that are open changed their weekend hours. The I-40 corridor gets the most people stopping at the visitor centers."
Terry said he sends materials to the Glen Rio and Gallup visitor centers to try to get people to come to Silver City. "Most people don't realize we have an airport here. We got an uptick in airport enplanement with an additional flight to Phoenix."
"You want to grow events and have people stay the night," Shoroer said. "You have 133 short-term rooms, so you need more rooms."
New Mexico Senator Howie Morales asked if the NMHA has any data to compare the area statistics with others of similar population.
"We have raw data we can share," Shoroer said.
Terry showed a new Silver City video produced by SkyWest Media. "It's all about inviting people to come to Silver City. Another video is on the 2017 Gran Fondo that will take place on Oct. 14, with the tagline 'Ride like a pro for a day.'"
Jack Brennan said the Gran Fondo video had been seen by more than 65,000 viewers.
Terry thanked SkyWest Media, Silver City and Grant County for paying for them. He said Lordsburg and Hidalgo County have produced marketing for their Veterans Park and Deming has an "Everything in Deming" app. He said Deming is doing a water park across from the theater.
"It's all about bringing people to this area," Terry continued. "It's all about bringing their money, their spending it, and then they go home."
He said people ask him how to get to the Cliff Dwelling. "I tell them about both routes. I also tell them there is no gas station between Silver City and Truth or Consequences if they go through the Black Range."
"This building wants a video to promote it," he said. "We have had weddings, even a funeral, conferences and parties."
Shoroer talked about the Tourism Panel.
"This is why we are here," she said. "Our mission is to grow tourism. We can't learn without listening. Each place has different obstacles. How can we help? We can elevate concerns."
Garcia introduced herself as the Gila Cliff Dwellings chief of interpretation and acting superintendent. "We will see a big spike in data. Come out and visit. We are making changes."
O'Connor said she has been 18 years in the area as a business owner and is also chair of the Grant County Lodgers' Tax Committee.
Michelle Muñoz said she has spent 18 years as the general manager of the Holiday Inn Express, and is part of the city Lodgers' Tax Committee.
Pack is the SkyWest Media tourism coordinator. "I'm working on my Ph.D. thesis on tourism marketing in rural committees."
Etcheverry said, as community projects director, she helps with anything community related. "I'm a jack of all trades."
Shoroer asked what are the new tourism related developments.
Pack said videos are big. "We have seen more than 72,000 hits on the Silver City video and more than 65,000 on the Gran Fondo one."
Etcheverry said Deming and Luna County are seeing a trend toward social media. "People want to see videos, but more interactive videos. Everyone is on mobile phones. That's why we have the app."
O'Connor said she sees that social media is what "we need to move to."
Shoroer asked what reviews they have seen on their establishment.
"Many know Trip Advisor," O'Connor said. "If I do anything wrong, it's on Trip Advisor. It's hard to maintain and grow a lodging establishment. We have to pay insurance and taxes."
Garcia said the Cliff Dwellings has 8,000 followers on Facebook. "We need to get on Instagram. Video clips get shared and reach 20 times the audience. We try to remember we are part of the forest and Silver City events."
Muñoz said Silver City is not on the Interstate, but it is a destination. "You're coming for specific things. People are going to Facebook, all social media and we have to answer reviews and handle issues."
Pack said it is necessary to boost Facebook posts. "Watch what you're posting. You have to have content. Make it about the experience. You are going to have to make it educational and fun."
Shoroer said: "If you create a destination, it's not just hotels, restaurants and museums. It's an ecosystem with everything working together."
Terry said people have to remember that going out to the Cliff Dwellings requires a full day.
O'Connor said those that come for one purpose often return to see other things.
A man in the audience said when he gets a bad review, "the way I answer makes a difference. Don't forget Snapchat."
"We have to keep a presence in Snapchat," Etcheverry said. "We have to make sure to hit all of them. There is software that puts you on all the social media outlets. You can plan it and set it up for a month."
Garcia said the Cliff Dwellings went with Instagram. "It's a demographic that is missing. But social media is not quick. It's time consuming."
"We're working on trying to get internet service and cell phone service at the Cliff Dwellings," Garcia continued.
"It's a big issue for rural communities," Shoroer confirmed.
O'Connor said Cliff and Gila have great service with WNM Communications.
Garcia said the Cliff Dwellings area does not have enough population.
Shoroer asked what the opportunities are in growing tourism.
Muñoz said she thinks SkyWest has begun with video. "Do videos of things like the Print Fiesta. Another opportunity is in the private sector. What are your hours of operation? What is there to do in the evening?"
Colleen Morton, the new Silver City Arts and Cultural District executive director, said she comes from Eastport, Maine.
"One thing you're getting is cross-cultural New Mexico," Morton said. "You should be marketing as a friendly state to Mexico in Spanish. In Eastport, we did a lot of marketing in French. We were at the end of the road and only accessible to or from Canada by ferry. We had collaborations between the U.S. and Canada."
Shin Wei said she was an English tour guide in China. "You need a theme."
O'Connor said she thinks the greatest opportunity is the Gila National Forest and Wilderness. "Once people have done Silver City and the museums, everything else is still out there, like hiking and backpacking, driving, biking. We have so few tourists, the forest is not crowded. This is our opportunity to build it, but keep it from becoming crowded."
Schoroer noted that the New Mexico Tourism Department with its New Mexico True campaign is steeped in culture.
Garcia said the area has the opportunity to draw youth. "The average age of people visiting the Cliff Dwellings is 57 years. Our future business lies with younger people. For the young, it's an adventure to get to the Cliff Dwellings."
Etcheverry said Luna County started an ad campaign in Mexico and got a tourism bump for one-day visas. "When big events are going on, we tag on with Silver City and Lordsburg for day trips within the area. We're also trying to tap into agri-tourism, with a Salsa Fiesta, where people will be able to pick chilies. Another one in Luna County is hunting. We have three different types of quail. Those people spend money."
Muñoz said Grant County has among the best elk and mule deer hunts in the Gila National Forest. "They support small cabins and cafés in smaller communities."
A woman said the area needs to promote overnight and several-day trips. "I live between here and Miami. Many people from Florida just go to the national parks. They can come to New Mexico. YouTube is a fabulous place to advertise. Europeans love to come to the West and New Mexico. We have to decide who we want to attract."
Shoroer said: "We want heads in beds; we want people to experience the galleries and go to the restaurants."
Pack said the area has to develop a strong sense of collaboration in marketing. "We have to push to figure out who we are. Collaboration is critical. The Arts and Cultural District is one of the central organizations, but we don't have a unified brand."
She said she had the opportunity to meet with a lady from Mexico. It showed the importance of digital marketing to bring people to the region.
"Millennials are under-represented here," Pack said. "They want pictures and videos. What is the experience?"
Shevek said when he had his old restaurant, he saw a minimum of 750 Germans come in during a year. "I'm seeing a decline in numbers. I can count them on one hand. We are not advertising enough in middle-class publications. We dropped Sunset Magazine."
O'Connor said with county lodgers' tax, they continue to advertise in Sunset.
"Why are we losing them?" Shevek asked.
O'Connor said the Department of Tourism is not doing advertising overseas, but only in the U.S.
Shoroer said: "The Department of Tourism did shift in marketing to concentrate on the direct-fly population. We collaborated with Tourism and decided the overseas advertising wasn't the best return on the dollar."
O'Connor said Tourism mostly is in the New Mexico Guide and monthly in New Mexico magazine.
Silver City Mayor Ken Ladner said one of the biggest tourism industries is birding. "I don't think we are promoting it enough."
O'Connor said Grant County has been advertising in birding magazines. "We made a change to the Cornell Ornithology magazine."
A student from Pack's marking class at Western New Mexico University said students use BuzzFeed to get news, Snapchat and geo-tagging online.
Shoroer started to list challenges and listed Millenials, as not having much money. Several spoke up to say that Millenials do have money to spend. A young woman said she had to move out of Denver because Milliennials with money to spend made the Denver rentals skyrocket. "They will spend money on adventure and travel. Many in their late 20s and 30s are working for Google, making big money and hiking, biking, boating and birding."
Rosalee Sirgany said it is important not to exclude any age group. "We cannot thrive on events. We have to develop the area for year-round tourism. The Southwest holds a mystique."
Morton said: "It's all about the experience. "We have to be detailed. It needs to be a strong emotional experience for the tourist. How about a dinner-theater concept that happens every week? The experience has to be beyond museums, beyond the static go, look and leave. And it has to be something everybody can buy into."
Shoroer asked panelists for their final thoughts, "as we start down the road of collaboration."
Garcia asked what the private sector could to. "Do a fabulous job and keep building on it. Keep changing it to meet the needs of the people. Old traditions are important, but sometimes they have to change."
O'Connor said with limited funding, the lodgers' tax committee works to reach all demographics. "No one is more important than another. We try to get someone younger on the committee. We struggle to create ads that have the Wow! Factor."
Shoroer thanked O'Connor and Muñoz for the hours they spend on promoting the area.
Muñoz said the area has so many different experiences. "We have a melting pot of everything. How do we reach people to come?"
Pack said the forum was the type of "collaboration that we need. Culture, radio, Mimbres Regional Arts Council. We have to come up with a brand. We will reach a lot with video marketing. We have a great representation of the community here."
Etcheverry said she, too, thinks the key is collaboration. "If we don't work together, it's not going to work, with our limited dollars. I don't care if someone stays one night or one week, I just want them to stay. We need to hit for the biggest bang for our buck. Tourism is an economic development driver. Bringing in money from outside is worth more than within the community."
Shoroer recognized Tourism Heroes, Sen. Morales, who had to leave early, and Rep. Rodolpho "Rudy" Martinez, who said tourism is a major contributor to the economy of the region.
"With the state budget a challenge, they are taking care of education, health care and supporting tourism," Shoroer said.
Tom Vaughan of FeVa Fotos said the experience for those who work during the week and come on the weekends has to improve. "People come to the Visitor Center and ask: 'What can we do on Monday?'"
Shoroer said it is important to deliver on the promise.
O'Connor said the lack of uniform hours is a problem. "As a lodging provider, I don't get information about your business. Lodging providers need that information, and it needs to be at the Visitor Center."
Rebecca Martin of the Visitor Center said: "Not everything is closed on Mondays."
A woman said: "When we talk about entertaining visitors, often the events are built on entertaining the residents. We have to have a vibrant community before others will come."
She suggested a couple of options for people. "And we have to invest in our own place first."
Shin Wei said the area needs its Wow thing. "In Tombstone, they have people in costumes. We need someone in the Visitor Center dressed as Billy the Kid and his mother."
Joyce Newman, Grant County resident, said word of mouth is the best advertising. "We have to have quality over quantity. Offer a high-quality experience, because of honest community attractions that does not degrade the experience that brought us here. In the Florida Keys, we saw the quantity degrade the experiences for residents. We came to Silver City to find a real place, with real people doing real things."
Wendy Phillips said she doesn't care for Billy the Kid. "We invest in real estate. VRBO hasn't been invited to the conversation. We moved from other places to invest in buildings. They can tie into tourism. We've been here almost eight years, and we see so much divisiveness among cultures. If we don't get the Hispanics and the Anglos to start enjoying themselves together, we won't get anywhere. Don't forget farming and agriculture, and mining. How do we bring them together? The bi-cultural aspect is what brought us here. There are a lot of issues and other people who need to be part of the conversation."
Paul Royalty of PNM, the sponsor of the event, said PNM has incentives for businesses to achieve energy efficiencies with PNM programs and invited attendees to talk to him after the forum.
George Julian Dworin of New Mexico magazine said: "We do a digital edition and we are on Facebook. Pick up our magazine outside on the table."
"This was a beginning," Shoroer said. "What is happening here is exciting. The spirit of collaboration and a united message is important for your future."
Terry recommended getting the videos, so they could be posted to entities' websites. "Don't just like them, but share them. If you want to know what's going on in tourism, attend the Ruidoso Governor's Conference. It's done exceptionally well."