New Mexico Tourism Director Plans New Approach

Steve’s breakdown: Here’s an ex-Quaker Oats executive taking on New Mexico tourism. This account has been all over the place with their alien campaign and then there was the “Be Enchanted” effort. Neither really worked. Hopefully her traditional package goods background can steer them in the right direction. She’ll probably need help so get in there now before they issue an RFP.

ALBUQUERQUE, NM: Monique Jacobson admits that some of the people she has met since taking over as tourism secretary earlier this year are a little hesitant when she starts talking about her background.

For the past 10 years, she has been in Chicago, working on marketing campaigns for things like Gatorade and oatmeal. Before that, she was in Pennsylvania at Wharton Business School, which sometimes raises a whole new round of questions.

“I’ve had a few people ask me why I went so far to go to a little secretarial school,” she said.

But the petite Reese Witherspoon look-alike has a strong comeback for anyone who questions her tourism credentials: “I have the most real kind of tourism experience,” she says. “I grew up in it. I saw the economic impact. The only reason I was able to go to Wharton for college was because of tourism.”

Jacobson is a Taos native and the daughter of an immigrant, Jean Mayer. He came to the United States with just one suitcase, she says, then built his fortune in the Taos Ski Valley where he owns the St. Bernard hotel and is technical director of the mountain’s ski school.

She grew up in Taos, Santa Fe and Albuquerque before heading to college and then the windy city. Now 32, she, her husband and two young boys are back in Santa Fe, and she is ready to put that real tourism experience together with some hard-hitting marketing and business experience to elevate New Mexico’s ranking as a tourism destination.

“New Mexico deserves to be a premier destination, and right now we are not,” she said in a recent interview.

Right now, she said, the state ranks 24th in the nation on the list of places people “intend to visit,” Jacobson says.

“We should be at least one of the top three destinations in the country,” she says. “I firmly believe that.”

To get there, she said says she needs to “fix some fundamentals” and bring the state’s six tourism regions together to build a common branding message that will resonate with potential visitors.

Just three months into the job, she has already traveled the state and held meetings in each of those districts. And she intends to make a second tour soon.

After meetings last week in Albuquerque, the reviews were mostly good, although some were still waiting to hear how the office planned to deal with the immediate concern of deter fire-related cancellations.

Nearly two weeks ago, while fires were raging in three corners of the state, Jacobson said in an interview with The Associated Press that the state was working to be proactive to people know New Mexico “is still open for business.”

But last week, during a regional meeting with tourism officials in Albuquerque, Jacobson was still unable to articulate any concrete plans for addressing the fires as evidence is mounting that summer tourism could suffer because of the fires.

“It sounded like they were thinking about it but they just didn’t quite know how to do it,” said Nancy Renner, owner of the Chocolate Turtle B&B and a member of the board of the Tourism Association of New Mexico. She asked Jacobson what the department was doing to address reports that hotels are starting to see cancellations because of the fires.

Nonetheless, Renner said she has been impressed so far with Jacobson, who has initiated meetings with groups across the tourism sector in New Mexico.

“She is looking to us for input and advice,” Renner said. “That is different. I never felt like we were a sounding board. I felt like we were told what was happening.”

Tania Armenta, vice president of marketing, communications and tourism at the Albuquerque Convention & Visitors Bureau, said that the industry is excited about Jacobson’s strong marketing background, which is critical.

“She definitely comes with very specific thoughts and changes and after her short tenure and has identified some things she wants to change. I think it is a little early in some of those areas … but we remain very excited and pleased with her approach.”

In particular, Armenta said, she likes that Jacobson’s office is taking a hard look at data and research.

In addition to meeting with tourism officials, Jacobson has been holding focus groups in Houston, Los Angeles, Chicago and Albuquerque to get a better handle on what messages will best to sell the state. She said that while people had strong feelings about why they would want to go to Colorado or Arizona, they didn’t really know much about New Mexico — underscoring the need to develop a strong unified brand.

“They don’t know what they would do in New Mexico,” Jacobson said. “They say I know it’s beautiful, but I don’t know what I would do. I know there is nature American cultures, but I don’t know what I would do.”

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