Serving the High Plains

Time to rethink visitor centers around the state

Last summer, when droves of tourists left their home cities to travel again after lockdowns, the tourism industry saw some much needed regrowth. Taos, too, saw its share of travelers, who enjoyed at least partly reopened businesses, parks and other town amenities. But the Taos Visitor Center, the one dedicated resource for tourists at the corner of Paseo del Cañon and Paseo del Pueblo Sur, remained closed, and still is today.

Some people have been asking why the center is still shuttered. But the more important question might be: How can the town best utilize this space in a world where more and more tourists consult their smartphones, rather than a visitor center, to get the information they need?

Town Director of Marketing and Tourism Karina Armijo said the town was asking this question well before the pandemic began. “If you look back at the Martinez administration, she had shut down several of the state visitor centers for that very reason, because in their budgeting they looked at the question: In the 21st century, what does a visitor center really look like?”

All across the state and country, many visitor centers have been either converted to other uses or shut down entirely, including one outside Texico.

Armijo said she proposed the idea of a “mobile visitor center” last October. “I was working with a contractor to figure out how to perhaps buy a VW bus from the late ‘60s or early ‘70s and retrofitting it,” she said. “We could put it downtown where it can be seen, something somebody would want to stop by and look at and ask questions. There would be one person manning it. We could take it to different festivals or move it around or take it out of town if we wanted to, things like that.”

Some form of brick and mortar center (wherever it is housed) will still be necessary, even if it doesn’t look quite the same as it has in the past. Visitors, after all, still need a place to make a pit stop, stretch their legs and use the restroom.

If the center reopens, Armijo said she plans to call on the rest of the county to contribute lodgers’ tax dollars to help cover the $250,000 it takes to operate it each year. The rationale behind this ask seems reasonable: The center doesn’t just direct tourists around Taos, but to all parts of the Enchanted Circle. The town is also still working to recoup losses in lodgers’ tax dollars, which fell by 63 percent last year, Armijo said.

County Commissioner Jim Fambro said he would support the idea of shared funding for the center, and town councilors Darien Fernandez and Nathaniel Evans also said it made sense to work together.

We agree, and more broadly, the idea of greater cooperation between the town, the county and the other municipalities in our area seems like a win, especially in these still uncertain times.

— The Taos News

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