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UFO Festival means big business for city

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The UFO Festival brings people from most of the U.S. states and several different countries. One of the city’s largest tourist events of the year, it is expected to bring at least $1 million in additional revenues to the city and to businesses. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

Packed hotels, busy venues, lots of visitors coming this week

The UFO Festival and its companion events, Galacticon and the SciFi Film Festival, might be just fun and good times for a lot of people, but it is serious business for Roswell.

As some of the organizers also explain, the events can help build some fledgling industries for the area, including film and media arts enterprises.

The annual event is one of Roswell’s biggest tourist weekends, bringing in international speakers, visitors and media; an expected crowd of at least 15,000 people; and what is estimated as at least $1 million in additional revenue to businesses and the city.

Although other events such as Hike It and Spike It and the Eastern New Mexico State Fair bring in more participants and perhaps more money, no other event in the city takes up so much of the city — or strikes quite the same weird chord.

“I think it means in general that we expect a larger group of people with antennae, slightly green in appearance,” said Edie Stevens, a local hotel sales manager and president of the Roswell Hotel and Hospitality Association.

She said the festival weekend is definitely one of the busiest for the city’s 25 hotels and motels, with their 1,433 rooms. Internet hotel booking sites show some rooms still available for the weekend at a few hotels. Other visitors have chosen or will opt for local recreational vehicle parks and private rentals.

This year’s event officially begins Friday morning, although some related attractions start earlier in the week. The activities will close down North Main Street from Second to Sixth streets for vendor booths, attractions and artistic performances, a beer and wine garden, live music, contests, a mobile museum, a city-sponsored “Roswell Incident” display, and food trucks, while lectures, films, workshops and classes, and planetarium shows will take place in the International UFO Museum and Research Center, the Roswell Museum and Art Center, and the Roswell Civic & Convention Center.

Determining the exact size and economic impact of the event has been a difficult task, according to organizers, given that the city typically sees business boosts brought about by Fourth of July celebrations and summer vacations, as well.

But Kathy Lay, MainStreet executive director, said it is a major tourist and business enhancer, with some downtown businesses telling her in previous years that they bring as much in sales during the one weekend as they typically record in two or three months of operations.

“This is the biggest event that MainStreet is involved with. We have a lot of events that take a lot of man-hours and a lot of work (such as parades and holiday lights), but this one, by far takes a lot of our time,” she added.

In 2018, she said the people who filled out questionnaires — estimated to represent about 20% of attendees — represented 43 states and seven countries, and said they paid for 7,000 meals and 1,600 accommodation nights.

This year, she said, the festival has 107 registered vendors so far, who pay sales taxes and purchase city business licenses, and will involve about 50 volunteers. Eighteen different media groups have signed up, including some national and international outlets.

Galacticon, a comics, superhero and role-playing event, will fill half of the Roswell Convention & Civic Center main hall with about 42 exhibitors, said organizer Elaine Mayfield. The event, run by about 25 volunteers, has been self-supporting since 2017, bringing in about 2,400 people and grossing about $25,000.

The SciFi Film Festival, offered in conjunction with Galacticon, will feature 14 juried films shown at the Convention Center and the Galaxy 8 movie theater. Those films include a couple that involve people from Roswell and also some international entries.

Mayfield said that an important aspect of Galacticon is that it helps build the area’s film and media art industry and workforce training, as organizers work with the state film office and Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell.

“We hope we are impacting Eastern New Mexico University and we are impacting the city through the film side as well, not just dollars on one weekend but working with them to do films and to get jobs in films,” she said. “That is a whole different side that we feel very strongly about.”

The International UFO Museum and Research Center expects more than 9,000 visitors during the festival, said Jim Hill, museum director.

“The past few years, it has been growing every year,” he said. “Last year, we had over 9,000 visitors over that three-day period. We expect to exceed that this year because our visitor count is up and has been up all this year.”

He added that last year’s total attendance at the UFO Museum set a record at 224,088, and he anticipates topping that this year.

For the 2019 UFO Festival, he said, the museum does have a couple of new exhibits, including an interactive phone-based feature.

The city’s Visitor’s Center, which relocated back to North Main Street in 2018, had 3,454 people sign in during the festival.

Juanita Jennings, public affairs director, said the city has hired a firm to analyze the festival’s current activity and allow for future planning.

“The city has hired Southwest Planning & Marketing, a research, marketing (and) economic development firm based out of Albuquerque,” she said. “It will conduct an economic-impact analysis of visitor spending and tax (fiscal impact) revenues for the state, county and city, by both residents and non-residents, for the festival, and provide a market report of survey findings and recommendations for the festival to improve economic impact and the experience of the festival.”

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 311, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.