On August 3rd ,the Sun News reported the City of Las Cruces is looking for alternative proposals from Global Spectrum because they are considering changing the direction of the operations of the Las Cruces Convention Center. The original expectations for the Convention Center included bringing new tourism business to the City. It could be that the Convention Center management may not be recruiting new business to the City. Also, it could be taking existing business from vendors in the city with conference facilities. So rather than growing the pie, the Convention Center may be slicing the pie into smaller pieces. The convention business is a tough business, many factors go into creating a robust tourism economy. Looking inward may be one solution, but also looking beyond our borders for new business may be an additional solution.
The recession started in 2007. By 2009, local hotels with conference facilities were experiencing the significant effects of the recession. In 2010, with the recession in full swing, the Convention Center opened. It’s sort of like opening a Christmas store in July. Not great timing. At the start of 2l03, the government Sequester added an additional heavy blow to the suffering travel and tourism industry.
A study last week by the U.S. Travel Association’s Travel Effects Study reported on the unintended consequences of the U.S. government’s crackdown on government employee travel. The study can be found at ustravel.org. It suggests our political leaders have placed in jeopardy some 340,000 American jobs and $24.4 billion in economic activity, without actually saving any taxpayer dollars. Travel Association officials indicated the bad behavior of a few government employees has triggered travel policy edicts that are crippling the ability of government agencies to perform legitimate, mission essential travel in support of critical government operations – most notably science, technology and national security enterprises.
We have just begun to feel the effects of the furloughs at White Sands Missile Range. Some hotels in our city have lost significant business because of the recent restrictive policy on government travel. I rented a 4 wheel drive to go to the spaceport during our last launch campaign in June. When I was at the rental desk, one of the employees told me, if it was not for the fire in the Gila, business would have been terrible.
U.S. Travel Association is a national, nonprofit organization representing all components of the travel industry – which generates $1.9 trillion in annual economic output and supports 14.4 million American jobs. The study estimated that in 2011, government travel had a $24.4 billion positive impact on the economy, helped support more than 340,000 U.S. jobs, generated $14.5 billion in U.S. wages and $5.5 billion in tax revenue for local, state and federal government. Canceling business travel for government employees may possibly save a small amount of money in the short term. As the creator of a conference held in Las Cruces annually, our calculated economic impact on Las Cruces is over $1million for four days. While the conference lasts two days, most people come in on Tuesday and leave on Friday. Approximately 80% of the out of town attendees look forward to returning to our beautiful city, to our unique climate and our hospitality. Approximately 14% of our attendees are government employees. That is one goal of commercializing the space industry, less dependence on government funding. Yet, White Sands Missile Range and NASA White Sands Test Facility have an interdependent relationship with our community. We provide them with a skilled workforce, they provide our community with high paying, technically focused, challenging work. We need each other.
As the City leadership is re-examining the operators of the Convention Center, I recommend a look at this study. It may provide a larger perspective from which to examine the future of our City’s Convention Center. Note, the study cautions, “as each agency reviews its travel and conference-related activities, it is critical to continue to recognize the important role that mission-related travel and conferences can often play in Government operations. Several agencies rely on meetings with industry and academic colleagues to drive innovation and ensure continued advancement in related fields.” The International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight is one of those meetings our city works to retain. Several federal agencies send people to our conference. It’s going to be harder for them to get here. So we are working harder and smarter to offer more value. It’s a tough business.