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Tourism in the Raton Basin: are we up or are we down?

SOUTHERN CO/ NORTHERN NM — Tourism trends in southern Colorado and northern New Mexico are “a riddle…inside an enigma”. Even though numbers at both the Colorado and New Mexico State Welcome/Information Centers have been down in recent years, other visitation indicators are up. For example, Cy Michaels of La Quinta Inns and Suites in Trinidad reports, “I could book a hundred rooms more now if I had them.” However, she adds, that doesn’t mean the same would be true next season. Conflicting with this observation are the stats on the visitors themselves. The average visitor party at the Colorado Welcome Center in Trinidad continues to number 3.2 people while numbers at the New Mexico Information Center in Raton hold steady at 2.5. More specifically, over the last 20 years, the numbers at the Raton center have decreased from their 2000-2003 peak average of 64,797 per year (the highest in 2002 at almost 65,600) to a most recent 36,714. Predictably, the numbers peak during the June, July, and August summer tourism season and are lowest in the November, December, January and February winter months. For the

past four years, those numbers have held steady, even though the center has not been open on weekends or during the lunch hour this year due to a shortage of volunteers. Factoring in the lost operating days this year, visitation is still down from its 15-year year average of 52,107. At Trinidad’s Colorado Visitor Center, the best years were 1996 – 99 when visitor numbers averaged 163,952. For the past four years the average number has been an abysmal 54,372. The main factor in this decline has been the ongoing work on the overpass and Nevada Avenue traffic circle which brought visitation down from its high of 166,152 in 1998 to a low of 51,219 in 2012. Since construction work began 11 years ago the average visitor count has been 65,827. While other Colorado Centers have rebounded from highway construction disruptions and facility renovation projects, the Trinidad center has languished at less than a third of its previous numbers. During this period, signage directing travelers to the center has also been a problem. The community-owned facility is also awaiting a major renovation, with state and federal grant monies applied for in 2012 and designated last year, so another significant disruption in service is to be expected. The Trinidad facility is staffed with one full time manager, Barbara Howard, and newly hired part time assistant Jennifer Collins-Wing. Daily operations are managed by a cadre of trained volunteers whose numbers have varied from 74 in the mid-nineties to approximately half that at the present time. The Raton State Visitor Information Center is staffed by two full time state employees and one part timer, currently on leave. Joseph Vargas, Alicia Fernandez, and Beverley Mark, have a combined 43 years of experience with the New Mexico State Tourism organization. According to Vargas, most of the main visitation comes from older people because the younger generation has less need for maps because of the wealth of information on electronic devices, another factor to be considered in attempting to understand this complex situation.