ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) — Albuquerque poured millions of dollars into making its Downtown centerpiece a draw for meetings and events, then COVID-19 hit. Now, over a year removed from pandemic restrictions, the question remains: is Albuquerque getting returns on its Convention Center investment?

Experts agreed; 2019 was a banner year for the city for conventions and tourism before the pandemic. Tourism leaders now say the city is slowly picking up steam to match that activity again.

“Tourism continues to be a very bright spot for Albuquerque. It is one of the city’s most effective economic generators,” explained Tania Armenta, CEO and president of Visit Albuquerque.

Armenta said the city gets nearly seven million visitors on average each year. Since the pandemic, Armenta said leisure travel and sports tourism have been quick to pick back up, but citywide events at the Convention Center have been slower on the uptake.

“I would say, for 2023, we’re about two-thirds of the way. We’re about 66% of recovery to pre-pandemic,” Armenta said. These numbers only include events booked through Visit Albuquerque, but she said these events do compose the majority of bookings.

Getting the most out of the Convention Center is important for Albuquerque. Over the last decade, the city’s invested more than $30 million in sprucing up the building and Civic Plaza—with a new fountain and a huge new entrance, among other things.

Karl Holme, executive director of the Greater Albuquerque Hotel and Lodging Association, said the post-pandemic rebound is happening faster in some areas like hotels—which are around 68% and 70% full this year. However, industry leaders also note, conventions aren’t quite up to full steam.

“Conventions book two or three years out,” Holme said, “We missed in 2020 and 2021. We missed that rotation. People were not booking for ’22, ’23, ’24 in Albuquerque because we were closed.” Holme thinks it will be another year before conventions are back up.

Sunport travel shows a similar trend: “From June of 2022 through May of 2023, we saw approximately 4,990,000 total passengers. That equates to roughly 8.5 [percent] lower than during the same time frame pre-pandemic,” stated Diana Lopez, public information officer for the Albuquerque Sunport.

On the bright side, Memorial Day travel was up this year. According to Lopez, 5% higher than it was in 2019.

Visit Albuquerque books the majority of the city’s conventions.

Armenta claimed they booked 38 events in 2019. She said last year they did 31, and this year, 26 are on the books so far.

About 43,000 people work in jobs tied to Albuquerque’s tourism industry.