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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Monday, December 31, 2001

New Mexico touts spirituality

By Sue Major Holmes
Associated Press

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — People are always telling New Mexico's tourism secretary they feel something spiritual when they visit New Mexico.

Now the state is trying to capitalize on that.

"There are a lot of things spiritual and legendary about New Mexico, its arts and culture, its history, its scenic beauty, its multicultural environment, its people, its cuisine," said Tourism Secretary Janet Green. "We can say so much more about New Mexico that hasn't been presented before."

Tourism is New Mexico's No. 2 industry, behind mining and oil and gas. It creates about 75,000 jobs, and, according to the Travel Industry Association of America's most recent report for 1999, tourists spent more than $3.54 billion in the state.

Visitors ooh and aah over New Mexico's scenery and say it's the reason they came. But in terms of ads, Green says, "every single state in the West was doing scenic beauty, and you can pick up magazines ... and see beautiful mountains in Utah, Wyoming, Montana and so on."

So last year New Mexico linked beauty to history in a campaign called "Legends," coupling sepia-toned photos of the state's attractions with brief paragraphs of its myths and legends.

That became the springboard for the new campaign, "Essence of Enchantment," which begins in January. The state is not trying to define spirituality, but rather is trying to capture the feeling through history, vistas, historic trails, myths and legends, Green said.

The campaign was planned before the Sept. 11 attacks. After the attacks, travel and tourism everywhere nosedived, but Green said she hopes the new campaign will put New Mexico in the forefront of meeting the needs of a skittish nation when things rebound.

"We happened to be in the right place at the right time," she said. "I'm not worried that we're not starting until January. People are just not ready to travel yet. ... Everyone has this sense of wanting to stay close to home, stay close to family."

The campaign's unusual emphasis didn't faze a tourism industry steeped in New Mexico's traditional environment, she said.

"For those of us growing up in New Mexico ... this multicultural, multibelief system has been part of who we are," Green said. "It's one of the reasons there have not been one of these raised eyebrow things, if you will, to saying we want to talk about the spiritual nature of New Mexico."

Catherine Borner, manager of the tourism-oriented Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs in northern New Mexico, has not seen the campaign materials, but endorses the ideas.

"I think it's a lot of what people are looking for right now," she said. "The world is in turmoil and they're trying to figure out the reason for it and how they fit in to it. They're looking for themselves and their place in the universe and for peace and quiet."

The natural mineral hot springs of Ojo Caliente, surrounded by mesas, have drawn travelers for more than a century.

"The first printed materials that I've seen on it was from the 1830s," said Borner, who has lived in northern New Mexico for 35 years and Ojo Caliente for 26. "One of our bathhouses is from the 1860s; our hotel is from 1916."

People find the very age of the place comforting, she said.

"You feel safer," she said. "Things are established and you know they will be going on."

And since Sept. 11, Borner said, "people are becoming more and more aware of what's really important. It doesn't matter what kind of car you drive. ... It's more important that you're at peace with yourself, with your family, with your friends."