During the summer months of the pre-pandemic years, tourists flocked to Albuquerque to enjoy near-total sunshine or indulge in the city’s cultural offerings.
Foreigners could be spotted all over town, strolling through the historic Old Town district and hiking in the foothills of the Sandia Mountains.
This summer, those scenes are finally making a comeback.
After two years of pandemic-induced disruption, Albuquerque’s tourist season is finally in full swing and largely returning to pre-pandemic levels, local leaders said.
“There is no doubt that the travel industry has been hit very hard by the pandemic, and there have certainly been different observations and predictions made about what this recovery will look like,” said Tania Armenta, president and CEO of the direction of Visit Albuquerque. “And what’s happened is that the fact that people have stayed at home and there have been changes in their behavior for such a long time, it’s led to quite a significant pent-up demand for travel. and Albuquerque has benefited tremendously.”
Tourism is an important part of Albuquerque’s economy, bringing in more than $2 billion for the city in 2019 and $14.5 million in renter taxes, according to data from Visit Albuquerque.
This year could bring in even more money.
Albuquerque is on track to generate record tenant tax revenue for fiscal year 2022, said Ceela McElveny, vice president of marketing for Visit Albuquerque. Tenant tax data provides insight into tourism figures, as it reflects taxes levied on short-term hotel accommodation such as those typically used by tourists.
So far, Albuquerque is on track to raise $15.6 million for the current fiscal year, up more than $1 million from 2019 — the previous record year.
“(It’s) an incredible comeback after two years of the pandemic and it shows the strength of this pent-up travel demand,” McElveny said.
Although part of the increase, Armenta said, could come from the fact that many hotels have increased their overall rates this year.
Along with an increase in tax collections from tenants, hotel occupancy is also up from the previous two years and is almost back to pre-pandemic levels.
In April, Albuquerque had a hotel occupancy rate of 67.4% compared to the national average of 65.5%.
Those numbers are also up from 61.2% in April 2021 and 25.9% in April 2020 at the height of coronavirus restrictions. In 2019, the average hotel occupancy rate was 69.9%.
Old Town Retailers
At the Breaking Bad Store in Old Town, tourists are the heart of the business, according to co-owners Edward Candelaria and Marq Smith — with nearly 90% of their customers coming from Albuquerque.
The duo chose to open their store in Old Town Albuquerque because they knew it would rely heavily on tourists, but the timing of the opening – January 2020 – meant the first year was tougher than expected. .
According to Candelaria, the old town was a “ghost town” at that time.
“When we came back from the (first) shutdown, there was nothing, there was no tourism,” Candelaria said.
However, since the height of the pandemic, the store and the Old Town are now seeing an increase in tourism, Candelaria and Smith said.
Since the store opened at the start of the pandemic, Candelaria and Smith said they couldn’t compare current traffic to the old normal, but the store is on track to double 2021 sales.
Smith said the store is regularly packed with tourists, so much so that they are considering bringing in an additional member of staff to help manage the surge.
Indeed, on a Friday in June, tourists could be seen entering the store and checking out the many “Breaking Bad” themed items in the store.
“This year just exploded to uncontrollable heights,” he said. “And I say that because, last year, the world was still closed. This year, we see a lot more people from other countries. I mean, I just met a young man from Slovakia who wanted to come to the store.
Also encouraging is the return of charter buses bringing tour groups from out of town or out of state, something none of them have seen since the store opened.
Besides the increased foot traffic, Candelaria said the airing of the final season of “Better Call Saul” is also attracting people, and the store is currently selling more merchandise from the spinoff series than from “Breaking Bad.”
Down the street from the Breaking Bad Store, Painted Lady Bed and Brew, a bed and breakfast specializing in local brews, is also experiencing a return to normal.
Owner Jesse Herron said the hosting company is almost back to 100% of the traffic it saw before the pandemic.
“It feels like things are back to normal a bit as far as travelers are concerned,” he said.
As international visitors slowed and nearly disappeared during the height of the pandemic, Herron said they too were starting to return and he recently had his first international booking in more than two years.
“I think people are itching to get out there and get back to what used to be normal,” he said.
Some are still recovering
While accommodation statistics show a return to normal for tourist numbers, some tourism-based entertainment businesses are still struggling to generate similar revenue from pre-pandemic levels.
At hot air balloon company World Balloon, owner Murray Conrad said passenger numbers were down about a third from 2021.
He said last year had actually been a banner year for the company thanks to ‘revenge tourism’ and tourists’ desire to tick things off the to-do list, such as hot air balloon rides after a year spent inside the house.
Despite the increase in visitors to the city, Conrad said some travelers who would otherwise choose to take a hot air balloon ride during a trip have decided to forgo a flight due to rising gas prices.
Gasoline increases aren’t just deterring tourists from booking. Conrad said it also affected his company’s bottom line due to increased expenses. This year alone, he says, they paid $5,000 more for propane, and that’s not including the increase in diesel prices.
Daniel Liberti, owner of Four Corner Balloon Rides, said his bookings were up this year compared to last year, but overall flights are down due to an unusually windy spring season and flight cancellations. last minute due to travel issues or cost increases in the economy.
As a “luxury item,” Liberti said rides are often the first thing canceled, so travelers can spend their money elsewhere.
He said that when gasoline prices initially went up, he had a few cancellations and a few customers told him they needed to rethink their spending in light of the fuel increases, but those types of cancellations have now decreases.
Now, Liberti said, a major driver of cancellations is customers unable to complete their reservations due to canceled or re-routed flights.
As tourists return, Armenta said his organization is working to continue highlighting the unique features Albuquerque has to offer.
Armenta said Visit Albuquerque, which works alongside the city government to promote tourism, has launched several campaigns aimed at attracting tourists from destinations across the country, including new campaigns in Las Vegas, Nevada and Austin, Texas, boosted by new direct air travel to both locations.
She said campaigns to attract people for events such as the Gathering of Nations and cycling competitions have been successful, but the focus is now on bringing back events, such as work conferences. – a travel segment that is still operating below the pre-pandemic period. levels.