The “UFO thing” is still a controversy, but it’s what brings people here, said local restauranteur Neil Roe at the conclusion of the Roswell TourismTalk held Friday in the Bassett Auditorium of the Roswell Museum and Art Center.
Roe went on to say that if you saw tourists in Roswell around this time of year before 1997, the first year for the UFO festival, it was because they were lost and looking for directions to get to Carlsbad.
“It used to be a dust bowl here on July 4,” he said. “Now people come to this town.”
Not only does the city’s Fourth of July event draw thousands of mostly local spectators, the UFO festival draws tens of thousands of both locals and visitors from across the globe.
The guest speaker for the TourismTalk, a new program sponsored by the city’s Public Affairs department, was Audrey Herrera-Castillo, deputy secretary of the New Mexico Department of Tourism.
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Herrera-Castillo and several members of her staff were in Roswell for three days checking out the local attractions and eating at the locally owned restaurants.
“We’ve been here since Wednesday and have seen Roswell from an outsider’s perspective,” she told the crowd of around 25 people.
She spoke in detail about the tourism department’s New Mexico True brand, which was unveiled in 2011 and now includes a barrage of marketing campaigns such as a magazine, fliers, a website, social media and TV commercials and programs.
One of the pillars of the program is to bring attention to outsiders those things that make New Mexico different from other states, she said.
Herrera-Castillo showed a video from 2011 in which six adults were asked what first came to mind when the interviewer named a state.
When New Mexico’s northern neighbor Colorado was put on the table, the responses included mountains, clean air, skiing and other outdoor activities.
“It’s beautiful,” one woman told the interviewer.
When the same question was asked about New Mexico, nearly all the answers were negative. The same six people who lauded Colorado said that New Mexico was a “barren desert” and a “place you drive through on the way to somewhere else.”
Or, “I know it’s close to Arizona, but it’s a wasteland with nothing to do.”
One of the good comments was that New Mexico is artsy, “but that gets boring after about an hour.” One woman joked that when she thinks of New Mexico she conjures up images of hippies burning sage.
Herrera-Castillo said New Mexico has a “perception problem and not a product problem,” as most people who live in the state can attest. In a PowerPoint presentation, Herrera-Castillo showed data that tourism visits across the state have steadily increased since 2011.
One of her staffers added that tourism is now the state’s second fastest-growing industry. The fastest growing is oil and gas production.
Herrera-Castillo said a cynic might say, “What does this matter to me? There’s all these people on the roads who don’t know how to drive.”
She answered her own question, stating that the increased tax revenue from tourism has reduced the tax burden on each New Mexico household by an average of $841. Further, the larger national parks and monuments in New Mexico are getting so many visitors now that they are bringing to the attention of visitors some of the state’s smaller parks and recreation areas.
Like many cities and towns in New Mexico, Roswell has partnered with New Mexico True to enhance its own tourism marketing efforts. Now private businesses can be a partner through the New Mexico True Certified program. Local businesses can leverage the multi-million dollar New Mexico True brand to showcase items that are 100 percent made, grown, born or raised in the Land of Enchantment.
To apply online, visit NMTourism.org/TrueCertified. For more information about New Mexico True, email True.Certified@state.nm.us. or call 505-412-1183.
The next TourismTalk will be held on July 24. For more information, visit roswell-nm.gov or call 575-637-6203.