LOS ALAMOS, N.M. (KRQE) – Nearly two months after Christopher Nolan’s blockbuster movie “Oppenheimer” was released, Los Alamos County in New Mexico is continuing to see an uptick in visitors and is working to open more Manhattan Project-era buildings to keep guests coming.

“It’s amazing what a little movie can do to shine a light on a place that really is a great place and that people enjoy, but it’s a small place. And it tends to be not the place that everybody goes to first and thinks at first. And we’re starting to see a shift in that,” said Leslie Bucklin, assistant public information officer for Los Alamos County.

Shift in tourism

The shift in tourism is reflected in reports from the Los Alamos Commerce and Development Corporation (LACDC) the National Park Service (NPS) and the Los Alamos National Lab (LANL). According to LACDC, visitation is up around 60% at the Los Alamos Visitor Center from this time last year, looking at the first half of the year. LACDC’s other attractions such as the Bradbury Science Museum, Los Alamos History Museum, Manhattan Project National Historical Park Visitor Center (MAPR) and the Los Alamos Nature Center, have been reporting similar numbers. Labor Day weekend alone experienced a 66% increase year-over-year at the Los Alamos Visitor Center.

The NPS reported that its app, which covers all of the parks in the country, saw 55,000 downloads in July with the top three hits being Los Alamos Tours, Los Alamos Site at MAPR, and Hanford Site at MAPR. NPS said visitation has also increased at the Los Alamos Site Visitor Center at MAPR and ranger tours have included much larger numbers consistently.

LANL reported “unprecedented” interest in the behind-the-fence tours on LANL property. While the twice-per-year tours are usually popular, LANL added more tours in the fall, allowing 150 people to register. LANL said tickets were booked in 20 minutes from the release time.

Due to an expected increase in visitors in October, the National Park Service will be staffing two additional rangers to help with the increase in traffic over the weeks of Oct. 14-22, because of the solar eclipse on Oct. 14, MAPR tours, and the Trinity Site opening Oct. 17-21. MAPR also just got its first permanent site manager who is set to start on Sept. 18.

A new type of visitor in Los Alamos

Bucklin said frequent visitors to Los Alamos include history buffs and people who enjoy national parks. However, a new type of audience is joining the mix because of the “Oppenheimer” movie. “Now we’re getting an audience that really knew nothing about Los Alamos, and is much more interested in the film industry and film locations,” Bucklin explained.

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Tourism planning for “Oppenheimer”

The success Los Alamos is seeing with tourism did not happen overnight. Bucklin said tourism planning began when officials learned that Nolan was planning to film “Oppenheimer” in Los Alamos in 2022. Tourism then started to pick up before the movie was released on July 21, 2023. Around spring break this year, Bucklin said a lot of community members realized just how large of an impact the movie would have on tourism.

“And I think that has really started to open people’s eyes. And we saw a pretty decent boom right after spring break of business owners saying ‘oh, maybe I should have an Oppenheimer option or offering in the community,'” Bucklin explained.

The county created “Project Oppenheimer” and “Team Oppie” to help increase tourism and connect with businesses in the community so they could benefit from the interest in “Oppenheimer.” The goal is not solely focused on revenue, as Los Alamos has a handful of free activities for people to take part in. According to Bucklin, county leaders, businesses and groups, like the NPS and LANL, are looking to provide memorable experiences and educate visitors about the history of J. Robert Oppenheimer and his work to create the world’s first nuclear weapon.

“So part of the project Oppenheimer initiative is to try and leverage this interest and grow the tourism base in general, not just because of the interest of the movie, but maybe utilize the interests of the movie to grow the entire industry,” Bucklin said.

New experiences

The effort to bring in more visitors to Los Alamos is not done. Bucklin said businesses in Los Alamos have been encouraged to stay open on the weekends compared to some businesses’ traditional Sunday through Thursday schedules. There are also plans to open the Oppenheimer House and the  to the public, Bucklin said.

“I think there’s a great mentality in Los Alamos of as we welcome visitors, and as we show them around, and tell them the histories, and let them experience Los Alamos, also have the freedom to come to their own conclusions about how they feel about all of this,” said Bucklin.

Other changes in Los Alamos include more tours at the Los Alamos History Museum and improvements to the Bradbury Science Museum. LANL is also working on public programming for the future, Bucklin said.

Another project that Los Alamos has in the works is providing more lodging options for visitors as a majority of the hotels are booked up by those affiliated with the lab. “So having more hotels would make a huge difference. Because the need is there, the interest is there. It’s just about getting the developers here,” said Bucklin.

Los Alamos County created a website filled with historical resources about J. Robert Oppenheimer, the movie, and things to see and do in Los Alamos. Click here to view it. If you are planning to visit LANL, be sure to take a look at the restrictions in place.