After years of fighting a streak of bad luck, Taos’ business community has seen a couple rays of sunshine recently.
First, Pres. Barack Obama signed a proclamation March 25 establishing the Río Grande del Norte National Monument — a major act that is estimated to draw more visitors and create millions in new revenue. On the same day, Taos Solar Music Fest announced that red-hot British band Mumford and Sons would be playing a June 6 show in Kit Carson Park in front of 8,000 people.
The back-to-back shots in the arm appear to have rejuvenated those in the local tourism industry who’ve been battling a tough economy and lingering drought for years. Local leaders say the serendipitous announcements are an “opportunity” that can’t be squandered.
“Is this a kickstarter that could get things moving in the right direction? Absolutely,” says Jamie Tedesco, marketing director for The Taos Inn and director of the Taos chapter of the New Mexico Green Chamber.
By several metrics, tourism in Taos continues to languish. Lodgers tax (an indicator of hotel stays) is flat in town and well below pre-recession numbers, while gross receipts taxes (which represents overall economic activity) are still struggling to gain traction.
To turn things around, organizations like the Taos Tourism Council, the Taos Lodgers Tax Board and the Taos Arts and Cultural District have been busily brainstorming ways to capture the momentum. Most are asking the same question: How can we best use these events as a springboard to convince people to come back to Taos and stay longer?
Part of the answer is ensuring that the thousands of visitors coming to the Mumford and Sons concert have a good experience. That means giving them a lot to do while they’re here. It also means adequate parking, convenient food and water, and plenty of Porta Potties.
Taos Solar Fest organizer Dawn Richardson says the biggest crowd the event has handled until now was 7,000 people and that was over the course of an entire day. To funnel 8,000 people in and out of the park in a single evening is going to require some strategic planning.
“We are very aware that this is an opportunity to succeed, but it’s also an opportunity to fail,” says Taos Town Manager Oscar Rodríguez. As such, the town is working with event organizers to iron out things like how to bus people to and from parking lots to the concert grounds.
In addition, Rodríguez says the town is encouraging businesses to think outside the box. “This could be a little bit of a change in the way we do business,” Rodríguez says. He’s encouraging restaurants to set up temporary vending booths near the park and asking businesses to stay open later to accommodate the crowds. The gate to the park isn’t scheduled to open until 6 p.m., and the concert could go as late as 11:30 p.m.
There is also a suggestion that the town would close Civic Plaza Drive on the night of the show and open the convention center for additional vendors and to have extra bathrooms available.
Cindy Spray with the Taos Arts and Cultural District says a group of downtown merchants will be meeting Friday (May 3) morning at the Harwood Museum to talk about ways businesses can drum up excitement and activity downtown before the concert begins.
“What I don’t want is for business owners to be hiding in their shops ruing the tons of people who are in town,” Spray said. “This should be fun, and we should be doing everything we can to make it fun.”
Joanie Griffin’s marketing firm Griffin and Associates is contracted with the town to do promotion and advertising. Griffin says email blasts will be going to people on her mailing list to let them know what’s going on in Taos before and after the concert. The idea is to convince visitors to stay for more than just the Thursday show.
With the concert already sold out, restaurants are staffing-up to handle the flood of customers, and some hotels are already reporting they’ve got no rooms for the night. In the short term, everyone agrees that the concert is going to bring a much-needed boost at the start of summer tourist season. The trick is making sure the impact lasts.
“No matter what happens, we’re going to make money,” Griffin says. “But people can either walk away saying, ‘We gotta come back,’ or ‘Taos sucks.’ We want them to come back.”