Tour of the Gila, Blues Festival Generate Most Nights in Local Motels, Hotels

 Sabrina Pack, principal and chief operating officer of SkyWest Media, a Silver City-based media firm hired last year to study local lodger’s tax-funded tourism events, will present the findings from this year-long initiative to the Silver City Town Council at their regular meeting Tuesday.

The research, designed to improve marketing efforts that promote the Town of Silver City and the county overall, captured important visitor demographic information, visitor perceptions of New Mexico and the Southwest, and the economic impact of 12 tourism-related events, including length of stay and number of nights in hotels, money spent on food, gas and retail purchases. Additionally, crowd density measurements were taken to determine how many people attended these events from out of town. The study was funded by a $50,000 community investment grant from Freeport McMoRan, Inc.

Though determining which events contribute the most to the local economy was beyond the scope of the SkyWest contract, Pack’s report to the town identifies the Tour of the Gila and the Silver City Blues Festival to be the most significant. Fiesta Latina was also identified as an event with potential to attract significant tourism. Pack noted that while these events are perhaps most significant in terms of drawing visitors to Silver City, all of the events are important because, taken together, they create a diverse event portfolio that gives tourists with varying budgets, backgrounds and interests plenty of reasons to keep coming back.

Local motels reported that Tour of the Gila had more than 835 lodging nights associated with the event, while the Blues Festival had more than 335. Airbnb and VRBO rentals were not included in these numbers. Hotel and motel occupancy has been higher this year, primarily as a result of road construction and other contractor activity.

Interestingly, some 45 percent of the amateur riders who participated in Tour of the Gila reported a household income of more than $100,000, and 25 percent visited the Gila Cliff Dwellings and local galleries during their stay. More than 40 percent indicated that they would be returning within the year.

Prospective visitors surveyed for the study overwhelming stated that their primary interest is outdoor recreation, followed by history, dining and shopping, arts, music and culture. When asked specifically what types of tourism that interests them, most respondents said heritage and history, followed closely by natural resources, adventure tourism and cultural tourism.

Pack said that the research is important to better understand tourists’ interests, as well as their perceptions during their visit. One such comment triggered lighting improvements on Bullard Street.

Alex Brown, Silver City town manager, explained how he was able to quickly improve lighting along Bullard, after visitors commented that the historic downtown area was too dark at night, and they felt unsafe. “That was an easy, inexpensive improvement to make, and not something that we would have learned had we not begun this project,” he said. “We’ve learned a lot, and now we’ll be able to more effectively promote Silver City as a tourism destination.”

A portion of Lodger’s Tax funding was reserved this year to hire a marketing firm to develop and implement a tourism marketing plan for Silver City. That contract was awarded to Griffin & Associates, an Albuquerque-based firm, specializing in tourism promotion. Joanie Griffin, CEO and founder, will present an overview of the marketing strategy at the September 25th town council meeting.

Event tourism is an important economic driver, said Pack, which results in return visits, and may contribute to longer stays for other forms of tourism such as outdoor recreation, arts, culture and history.

According to a 2016 New Mexico Department of Tourism study on the overall economic impact of tourism, that year more than 35 million visitors spent $6.4 billion, a two percent increase over the prior year. The study also found that tourism has increased annually for six consecutive years, and supports 8.4 percent of all jobs in the state, generating $841 in state and local taxes for every household in the state.