NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – Early data shows New Mexico tourism is rebounding quicker than expected. In December 2020, things looked different.

“A winter surge was really starting to take route this time last year,” said Cody Johnson, Director of Communications at the New Mexico Tourism Department.

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As COVID-19 cases soared, there were restrictions on mass gatherings, events, and businesses. Also, vaccines were not yet widely available. “That, you know, played, played a big role in…there not being a lot of travel activity back at this point last year,” said Johnson.

Fast forward a year, and things are looking up. “We were able as the Tourism Department to reactivate our national advertising in May of 2021,” said Johnson.

He said that the state reopening in July helped tourism rebound, and it’s rebounding quicker than expected. “There were some projections that were as late as in some measures seven years down the road,” said Johnson.

But already, data shows hotel occupancy and estimated visitor spending is near pre-pandemic, 2019 levels. “The fact that it’s getting to that point where it’s almost matching pre-pandemic levels is a very exciting and a very encouraging thing,” said Johnson. “Travel is back, tourism is back and I think people are seeing that.”

Johnson says there are a few attributes New Mexico has that are helping speed up recovery. For example, the state does not rely heavily on business or international travel which are both slow to return. New Mexico tourism depending more on domestic and outdoor recreation also helps.

“As people continue to seek opportunities for outdoor recreation and outdoor adventure, New Mexico is going to benefit from that as well,” said Johnson.

He said the department’s main focus right now is trying to find hospitality staff to keep up with the demand. “We continue to hear from folks in the tourism business community that there’s still a challenge with the workforce in trying to bring it back to full capacity,” he said.

To address the worker shortage, the Tourism Department and Department of Workforce Solutions recently launched a hospitality training reimbursement program. It helps business owners train new employees and create new opportunities for current employees to create a career path in hospitality and tourism.

As pandemic conditions continue and the omicron variant spreads, Johnson said the department will continue its messaging informing visitors of the current mandates like wearing masks when indoor at public places.