Plans for the 2021 UFO Festival are underway, and the city is preparing to restart its tourism marketing next month with a goal of increasing “heads in beds” and the resulting revenue.
City officials discussed those plans during Thursday morning’s Finance Committee meeting with Chairman Jason Perry and committee members Jacob Roebuck and Margaret Kennard. Vice-chair Juan Oropesa was absent.
In the public comments section toward the end of the 30-minute meeting, Perry asked Public Affairs Director Juanita Jennings about the festival, which was canceled last year due to the pandemic.
“Yes, there will be a festival this year,” Jennings said, explaining the event company the city hired to manage the festival, In Depth Events, had a team here late last month. The festival is scheduled for July 2-4, according to the Public Affairs Department.
The city hired the McKinney, Texas, company in October using the $40,000 that in the past went to MainStreet Roswell to organize the event. MainStreet Roswell and the city announced in August the downtown organization no longer desired to be in charge of the festival so it could focus on its district.
According to the contract between the city and event company, In Depth Events will be responsible for the logistics of the festival, managing all entertainment and event production, volunteers, communications and budget.
“They covered a lot of ground,” Stephanie Mervine, the city’s tourism manager, said of the January visit. “They met with a lot of business owners and restaurants and they met with hotels, so I thought it was very productive.”
Mervine will have weekly virtual meetings with the company and they have clear-set goals each month and, as the festival approaches, weekly goals, she said.
The company is looking at a mixture of virtual and in-person events for 2021.
The company will be in town again in March, Mervine said.
Jennings also told the committee the city will restart its tourism marketing in mid-March, a year after suspending those efforts as state orders began to restrict hotel occupancy rates and retail service.
Jennings said the city has received a grant from the New Mexico Tourism Department to produce a commercial. A production crew will be in town Friday to film locations such as downtown, the Spring River Zoo and Bottomless Lakes State Park.
“That will go through the middle of March, April and May to target summer traffic for not only in-state weekend getaways, but we will be targeting out-of-state with an emphasis on COVID-safe travel to help people fill up our hotels, because that’s the goal,” Jennings said.
Roswell’s occupancy rates for places of lodging have been hurt by the pandemic, according to reports presented to the Finance Committee. Although state restrictions on occupancy rates have fluctuated throughout the last 11 months — from 25% for those that did not complete a state COVID-safe certification to 75% for those that did — Roswell overall has not reached those limits. Under the state’s Red to Green risk assessment that went into effect Dec. 2, occupancy is restricted to 40% in the Red Level, where Chaves County is currently.
Room night occupancy reports in Roswell hit 17% in May and the highest it has reached is 44% in November, according to city reports. The reports reflect activity in the previous month.
Lodgers’ tax and convention center fee collections, consequently, have been down. In December, the city collected $63,860 in lodgers’ tax, compared to $85,494 the previous year. Year-to-date collections are $449,746 compared to $690,373 last year.
Convention center fees reported in December were $37,715 compared to $49,810. Year to date, the convention center fees are down about 28%. Year-to-date collections are $264,844, compared to $363,261 the year before.
Jennings said the state budget proposed by the governor does include a $25 million recovery package for the lodging industry. If it passes, the city could apply for funding to help offset some of its costs in the convention center, she said.
Perry asked what the state is doing to help with the revenue for facilities such as the convention center.
“Convention centers aren’t really made to make money at the end of the day for us. They’re made to bring in ‘heads in beds,’ bring people into our community that maybe would not normally be here and then revenue is created that way,” he said.
The proposed $25 million would not go very far for the entire state, Perry said.
Jennings said the governor’s Economic Recovery Council has proposed an additional 2% increase in lodgers’ tax collections that would help.
Roebuck said while the city should explore options for recovery funds, that shouldn’t be the only resource it looks to.
“I think we need to also continue to work to be resilient and self-sufficient as a community and not bank on handouts. Ultimately we’ve got to get back open,” he said, noting that the surrounding states are more open than New Mexico but do not seem to be suffering any greater effects from the coronavirus.
“Things aren’t perfect in Texas and aren’t perfect in Arizona and Colorado, but they’re better than they are here,” he said.
“We need to get our head out of the sand and look at some more information, look at what’s happening out there. The handouts are going to get smaller and smaller and smaller,” Roebuck said.
While some businesses have been creative in doing business under the health restrictions, others have had to close either temporarily or permanently, he said. That could lead to some business owners deciding to leave New Mexico, he said.
“We have to continue to push hard on the governor, we have to push the lines, and from my political standpoint, where it’s true, to defy the governor, not disrespectfully but certainly for the benefit of our people, of our community. We need to stand up for that,” Roebuck said.
Jennings said her participation in a state task force for outdoor fairs and festivals has been helpful in getting Roswell’s concerns heard in Santa Fe. The task force has a weekly conference call with Tourism Secretary Jen Paul Schroer.
“I feel grateful that they’ve asked us for our input. We are a little bit different than the rest of the people on the group, I think, just by our location and our own views as this community. But they’re listening,” Jennings said.
City/RISD reporter Juno Ogle can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or email@example.com.