Quay County Sun - Serving the High Plains

Tax board votes no on tourism contract


February 5, 2020

The Tucumcari Lodgers Tax Advisory Board on Monday unanimously voted to recommend the city commission not renew its contract with an Albuquerque marketing firm for its regional tourism efforts, citing long-simmering dissatisfaction with the company.

The board also unanimously recommended the city not put out a request for proposals for a new marketing firm. Instead, board Chairman Larry Smith suggested the formation of a local tourism committee that would report to the board and city commission. The committee, Smith said, would “get back to basics” on its tourism efforts and try to form a more cohesive brand for the city.

The city commission likely will decide on the recommendations during its next meeting Feb. 13.

Albuquerque-based Sunny505, whose contract of $50,000 a year expires in May, had landed grants from New Mexico True, the state’s tourism marketing arm, for additional advertising. But board members for months had criticized its efforts, especially billboard designs associated with the tourism department that didn’t make it clear the attractions were in Tucumcari.

Several business owners during the board’s December meeting urged the city to find a new marketer. City manager Britt Lusk urged the board to make a decision in February on whether Sunny505’s pact would be renewed before the city engages in budget talks in April.

No board members came to Sunny505’s defense during Monday’s meeting. Matt Bednorz said if the city renews its contract with the firm, “we’re not listening to the people.”

Board member Lila Doughty said marketing efforts seemed to focus too much on First Street, and the city’s east end was “hurting” — especially since the closing of Kmart. As a manager of the Palomino Motel, she said its business went down by half since the retail store closed.

Mike Castelli of the Blaze-in-Saddle RV Park refrained from directly commenting on Sunny505’s efforts because he said he is too new to the board. He said he’d heard the firm “is not doing what it’s supposed to do.”

City commissioner and board liaison Todd Duplantis, an owner of two restaurants in Tucumcari and the operator of a third in Logan, said he would prefer the city move away from New Mexico True in its marketing. He said its ads focused on one motel or one or two museums, which wasn’t fair to others in Tucumcari.

Instead of hiring another marketer, Smith suggested a local committee of about seven people that would form a “cohesive” tourism strategy. He said it would recommend branding, colors and a style guide for marketing. He advocated spending money on streetlight banners, additional directional signs and more billboards in Wichita, Dallas-Fort Worth and Oklahoma City to the east and eastern Arizona to the west. Smith said he hoped to have a plan in place by April.

He suggested the committee and board join with Connie Loveland, executive director at Tucumcari MainStreet, so both organizations could broaden their strategies. Loveland later said the state’s MainStreet organization can assist with branding and marketing efforts, and Raton and Santa Rosa were using it for their tourism initiatives.

When asked by city finance director Rachelle Arias who would be on the committee, Smith said it would be himself, board member Al Patel, Loveland and chamber director Carmen Runyan to start. He said he also wanted to add business owners, one city commissioner and one person with marketing experience.

Joanie Griffin, a Sunny505 representative who made her usual teleconference call to the board early in the meeting, mentioned other small communities had complained about the lack of differentiation of New Mexico True content, and she was not optimistic it could be changed for the 2021 fiscal year. Lusk disputed that, saying he’d talked to New Mexico True officials two weeks ago who pledged more user-friendly content for communities.

Duplantis later seized on Griffin’s admission. He said “all small communities are at a disadvantage” to larger metro areas that use New Mexico True.

Lusk pointed out Sunny505 representatives should have heard more feedback from board members on their complaints.

“These concerns need to be vocalized when we’re on the phone (with her), not after she hangs up,” he said, referring to the board’s teleconference calls.

Audience member David Brenner, a former board chairman, pushed back on Lusk’s notion that board members didn’t communicate with Sunny505. He said his “hand was slapped” for emailing the marketing firm and was instructed to direct such communication through Lusk.

“Britt, we were counting on you to get them that feedback,” he said.

Lusk said annual lodgers tax revenue rose from $450,000 to $630,000 in a 10-year period. He said that represented 38% growth, compared to 19% inflation in that time frame.

Brenner said that revenue amounts to 3.5% growth per year.

“That’s OK. That’s all that is,” he said. He said it reflects motels raising room rates and not necessarily an increase in business.

In other business by the board:

• Former Motel Safari owner Richard Talley presented a report on his relaunching the Visit Tucumcari page on Facebook on Jan. 3. He said more than 2,300 people follow the page and that post engagement rose by 5,500 people. He said a long-term goal is to have more than 10,000 liking the page.

• Griffin said her firm lacked high-resolution photographs of Route 66 neon and murals in Tucumcari for upcoming ads in ROUTE Magazine. She said she would investigate whether she could hire a professional photographer for that.

• It re-elected Smith as chairman and approved Castelli as vice chairman and Patel as secretary. Patel had served as both vice chairman and secretary in the previous term.


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