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Land of Disenchantment

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Ed Quillen | Feb 29, 2012 06:00 AM

The Territory of New Mexico became the 47th state of the union in 1912, so the state is celebrating its centennial this year. It's also looking for a new marketing slogan to revive its tourism industry. 

For nearly 80 years, it's been "the Land of Enchantment," but the spell seems to be wearing off. As the Wall Street Journal explained in a story published in January, "Overnight tourist trips in New Mexico have dropped by nearly 10% in the past three years, and spending on everything from souvenir magnets to turquoise jewelry fell by hundreds of millions of dollars." 

NM BalloonLast fall, the state's tourism department convened some focus groups in Chicago, Houston and Los Angeles. "Enchantment" was not among the statements, which included responses like "close to Arizona," "arid and barren," "artsy," "dull" and "dreamcatchers." 

Some focus group participants associated New Mexico, which is landlocked, with beaches, and for years, some Americans haven't quite connected New Mexico with America. I have a friend who lived in Boston for a couple of years and during that time, went to mail a present to her parents in Belen, N.M.; the postal clerk wanted her to fill out a customs deceleration because New Mexico just had be a foreign country.

State Tourism Secretary Monique Jacobson, whose previous job involved promoting Snapple and Quaker Oats, said there should be a new advertising and marketing campaign that will attempt to brand New Mexico with the key themes of "adventure steeped in rich culture" and "the destination that feeds the soul."
The state is changing some of its promotion; there won't be any more Pasadena Rose Bowl Parade floats featuring extra-terrestrials from Roswell, and the state may revive its magazine aimed at tourists. But its $2.5 million tourism promotion budget may not be enough to make New Mexico competitive; neighboring Colorado spends $7 million. 

That seems to pay off, as the same focus groups that found New Mexico dull were asked about Colorado and provided responses like "God's country," "clean air," "beautiful mountains" and "skiing." No one seemed to remember a slogan that Colorado once tried to market, "Above it all," or as we noted in taverns back then, "It all flows downhill from here." 

While New Mexico looks for a new slogan, Colorado's tourism director, former state Sen. Al White, offered a free suggestion: "New Mexico: Just south of Paradise." 

When some New Mexicans took umbrage, White apologized as Jacobson invited him to come south for some skiing. White said it wasn't original, that he'd first heard it several years ago from the Cowboy State to describe Colorado in relation to Wyoming. 

So that will not be the slogan. While New Mexico has a rich history, there are some veins that probably shouldn't be tapped. Beset by the corruption of the Santa Fe Ring in the 1870s, legend has it that President Ulysses S. Grant (who was decorated for bravery as a young lieutenant in the 1846-48 Mexican War) remarked that it would be worth going to war with Mexico again if it could thereby be forced into taking New Mexico back.

As a Coloradan who enjoys occasional trips to the south, I offer "New Mexico: Kind of like home, but different." Or maybe "Tired of the Old Mexico? Try the new one." Or with Roswell in mind, "First stop for intelligent life in the universe." 

 Essays in the Range blog are not written by High Country News. The authors are solely responsible for the content.

Ed Quillen writes from Salida, Colo.

Image courtesy Flickr user David Herrera.

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