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City, state concerned about festival confusion

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Robert Chapman, co-founder of In Depth Events, talks at Thursday morning's City Council Finance Committee meeting about progress on the UFO Festival plans as Stephanie Mervine, the city's tourism director, center, and Juan Fuentes, administrative services director, listen. The city contracted with the Texas company to manage the festival, which will be July 2-4. (Juno Ogle Photo)

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The 2021 Roswell UFO Festival will get a boost in marketing from the state, but city and state tourism officials have concerns about people confusing the festival with MainStreet Roswell’s downtown Alien Fest events.

The UFO Festival was approved by the New Mexico Department of Tourism for its Strategic Events Recovery Readiness Initiative, Public Affairs Director Juanita Jennings told the Roswell City Council’s Finance Committee at its meeting Thursday morning.

SERRI is a pilot program to help the state’s cultural events make a comeback from the pandemic, according to information provided by the tourism department.

“Out of over 100 applicants throughout the state of the special events, Rowell UFO Festival was one of 13” selected, Jennings said.

The program provides a team of event experts who will give technical assistance and help gain sponsorships for the chosen events, according to the tourism department. It will also provide cooperative funds for advertising.

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However, the state has expressed concerns about the messaging of the UFO Festival.

“I’ve had several phone calls with them and they feel as we do, that there is some confusion when you are having a UFO Festival and also having the first annual Alien Fest,” she said, referring to MainStreet Roswell’s events during the festival.

Part of the issue is the results when people search online for information about the UFO Festival, City Manager Joe Neeb said.

Searching for the Roswell UFO festival on popular search engines such as Google or Yahoo frequently yields www.ufofestivalroswell.com as the top hit. That site is for MainStreet’s Alien Fest.

The official UFO Festival website, which just launched Thursday, is www.ufofestival.com and is, so far, ranking much lower on search engine hits.

“We’re having people show up at different websites and so it gets confusing as to that message as far as is it Alien Fest, the UFO Festival or is it something separate?” Neeb said.

MainStreet managed the UFO Festival for the city from 2014 to 2020. Last fall, both parties agreed the city would take over management. The city wanted to expand the festival to different parts of town outside MainStreet’s downtown district.

Kathy Lay, MainStreet Roswell executive director, said in an interview with the Roswell Daily Record the Alien Fest is not a separate festival, but rather the name for activities focused on bringing visitors to downtown businesses.

She likened it to the UFOlogist Invasion conducted by the International UFO Museum and Research Center or the Alien Chase 5K run during the UFO Festival.

“There are different titles that they give to some of the activities that are happening, so these are going to be the downtown Alien Fest activities that we’re doing downtown during the festival weekend. We are not planning on a separate festival,” she said.

Neeb and Jennings said the city is working with MainStreet Roswell to help clarify the issue.

Committee member Jacob Roebuck said he wasn’t too concerned about the confusion, however. The messaging will be more important to those who understand marketing than to the average consumer, he said.

“How good of success it is going to be is not so much about how well we messaged it outside the community, it’s going to be how well we brought the ‘wow factor,’” he said.

Robert Chapman, co-founder of In Depth Events, which the city has contracted to manage the festival, gave a glimpse of that “wow factor” in an update on the planning.

The company has met its contractual goals required to date, he said, including the website launch, visits by his team to Roswell, and planning anchor events for the festival.

Those anchor events include the Intergalactic Cinema Experience, a ticketed event at Cielo Grande Recreation Area in which three science-fiction movies will be shown outdoors with additional lighting and special effects for an immersive experience.

An electronic dance party will be at the Recreation and Aquatic Center, targeting 16- to 20-year-olds.

The main event of the festival will be a concert, with the headline act to be announced May 1.

The next steps In Depth is working on include determining the route of the Abduction Parade, which will be at 8 p.m. July 2 following opening ceremonies at DeBremond Stadium.

The organizers will also be selecting area nonprofit groups that will receive a portion of the proceeds from ticketed events, he said.

Chapman said traffic to the website was a bit slower than was hoped for, but interest prior to the launch was good.

Before the website launched Thursday, it showed a countdown to the festival and a form to receive more information. He said the site received 691 form entries from people seeking information on tickets, volunteering, sponsorships or becoming a vendor.

“We actually ended up with 2,377 people that viewed the form. That means we had a response rate of 30%, which is unheard of when you’re looking at internet technology. Usually, the response rate is closer to 10%,” he said.

By the time of the committee meeting, the website had 86 unique views from 23 states and seven countries, Chapman said.

“It is a little bit below as far as what we want to see as total traffic, but we are moving forward with several social media campaigns to get us to where we want to be,” he said.

City/RISD reporter Juno Ogle can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or reporter04@rdrnews.com.