September 14, 2016
by Bill Knowles
RATON — Colfax County and Raton, New Mexico are looking at the loss of their visitor center, one of four slated to be closed after the state government in Santa Fe voted to cut the state budget by five percent after October 7, according to Paul Jenkins.
In a letter to New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez, Jenkins, the acting president of the Raton Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Raton Economic Development Corporation, GrowRaton!, noted “tourism is an essential economic driver”, and the closing of the tourism center will deal a serious blow to the economy of Raton and northeastern New Mexico.
“We are the northern gateway to the state on I-25 and visitors from both the north and from the east, traveling on the Ports to Plains Corridor, U.S. Highways 64/87, first find out about our state and what Raton has to offer at this center,” Jenkins said in his letter. “Only because they stop here for information do we have a chance to let them know about Raton and the surrounding points of interest in northeastern New Mexico.”
A letter from Rebecca Latham, cabinet secretary for the New Mexico Tourism Department, indicated that, “in anticipation of a determination being made by the State Personnel Board on September 20, four of the (Tourism) centers will be closing after October 7.” In actuality, the doors will actually be closed and locked on September 20.
Citing a downward trend in visitation at the centers in New Mexico and surrounding states for quite some time (New Mexico has seen a 52%drop between 2009 and 2015), the state tourism department has indicated the use of mobile devices and computer planning of trips and vacations is the reason for the decrease in the use of state-run visitor centers.
“Despite annual visitation to New Mexico reaching an all-time high in 2015, use of the state-run visitor centers has taken a sharp decrease over the past six years … New Mexico is not the only state seeing a drop in visitor center traffic; roughly 11% of states report no longer having state-operated visitor centers due to the increasing popularity of mobile devices and social media reviews in trip planning,” Latham said.
However, according to Latham, several surrounding states have seen an uptick in visitation by changing the models with which their centers operate. As communities have become more involved with the state-owned centers in their areas, the locations have seen an increase in visitors.
For example, in Colorado, Arizona and Utah communities partner through MOUs (Memorandums of Understanding) and manage nearly all “state welcome centers”, such as the visitor center in Trinidad.
“This enables communities to have more control over the hours and information distributed, offering a better visitor experience tailored to what attractions and events are in their region … often with little to no overhead because the state owns the building, furniture, fixtures, etc.,” Latham said.
A closure of the visitor center in Raton will leave the three employees that work there out in the cold. Between the three, they have 48 years of experience at the center. “As for the employees being impacted, please know that through the state personnel office and our own network we are doing everything possible to place them in new positions ASAP,” wrote Latham.
However the impact to the northeastern area of New Mexico is still unknown, but it doesn’t look good according to Jenkins, “Does anyone really think that placing literature in Las Vegas will promote Raton sufficiently to bolster our economy? You might as well just write-off economic development for northeastern New Mexico if you close the Visitors Information