Santa Fe businesses report shifting tourism trends amid COVID uncertainties

·5 min read

Jun. 14—Everything is relative in the coronavirus era.

Tourism in Santa Fe so far this month is not overwhelming, but those whose businesses depend on visitors to the city say there's little way to project exactly how good or bad traffic revenue can be as the nation struggles with the uncertainties of COVID-19.

The more predictable template established before COVID-19 doesn't always work now, they say.

For Marcel Remillieux, May and June have been relatively sluggish in comparison to the solid March and April traffic for his short-term rental unit.

"In March, it was always fully booked," Remillieux said. "May wasn't fully booked and June is even worse."

In contrast, "The first quarter was horrible, less than 50 percent occupancy" at La Fonda on the Plaza, but in May, occupancy rose to the 70 percent range and June has cracked 80 percent, said Rik Blyth, the hotel's vice president and general manager.

"We have more groups traveling, and weddings are coming in with a vengeance," Blyth said. "Weddings started in April. We had three weddings last weekend [June 4] and three weddings this weekend [June 11]."

Groups make up 40 percent of La Fonda traffic now, compared to 30 percent pre-pandemic. The hotel's revenue in 2021 surpassed pre-pandemic 2019, and Blyth expects this year to beat 2019 as well.

For Five & Dime General Store owner Earl Potter, business has been relatively fantastic since March.

"It's interesting what has changed," Potter said. "Toys have increased in the last two years. Postcards have disappeared. Our trademark was the postcard wall. Socks are on that wall now."

Tourism Santa Fe Executive Director Randy Randall said he is noticing relatively fewer hotel guests checking in, but those who do are paying somewhat higher room rates.

"We're running a few [percentage] points behind April," Randall said about total hotel occupancy rates. "I think we have seen a little drop with the fires and resurgence of COVID. But the average room rate is up significantly. The amount of revenue has exceeded all historic levels."

Santa Fe occupancy rates in January were 26 percent below the record January in 2020; in February, 10.6 percent below the record 2017; March 8.7 percent below the record March 2018; and April 3.2 percent below the record low in April 2018, the most recent month available.

Average room rates in January were $23.80 higher than the prior record January in 2020; $39.52 higher than the record February 2020; $48.30 higher than the record March 2019; and $53.03 higher than the record April 2021, the most recent statistics available to Tourism Santa Fe.

For Santa Fe Dining, business looks different between its downtown restaurants and those in other parts of town.

"People of means with a second home or people who come to our downtown properties year after year — those people are back," said Rick Pedram, Santa Fe Dining's CEO. "Outside of downtown, our income is not as impactful."

Though La Casa Sena, La Cantina, Rio Chama Prime Steakhouse and Draft Station/Rooftop Pizzeria are filling up, Pedram hasn't noticed overwhelming foot traffic on the Plaza or on downtown streets.

"You definitely don't have that crushing sense of people," Pedram said. "Except Memorial Day, that was a crushing weekend."

What has been crushing for Santa Fe Dining is a 30 percent increase in labor costs over last year and about a 25 percent increase for all goods. A case of chicken wings, for example, has soared from $30-$40 to $200. "It's almost impossible to do lunch and dinner seven days a week anymore," Pedram said.

Fine-dining Sazón and Sassella — both co-owned by Lawrence Becerra — match Santa Fe Dining's full houses for high-spending tourists.

"We're not seeing any slowdown," Becerra said. "June is always kind of a funny month. It can be up or down. July is when it really gets cranking."

The trend for Maloof on the Plaza has been fewer shoppers in the store but more willingness to spend top dollar.

"January to April, things were up significantly, but May and June are flat or a little below last year," co-owner Scott Maloof said. "The people traffic is down. Normally, I'd be like, 'Can you come back tomorrow morning?' "

Maloof has noted that during the pandemic, shoppers have had a greater willingness to buy $10,000 items rather than just settle for $300 pieces.

"Those that are coming in are spending," he said. "Higher-priced items are selling easier."

AdobeStar Properties has seen a shift toward more spontaneous bookings rather than advanced bookings for its 38 short-term rental units.

"May and June can be up or down," said Sydney Duettra, AdobeStar's co-owner. "For us it's up."

She said before the pandemic, people typically stayed three or four days. During the depths of the pandemic, when work at home was most prominent, AdobeStar saw many guests do their work from their short-term rentals for weeks at a time. Now the average stay is 4.3 days.

"We have seen more bookings in the last week," Duettra said. "Before the pandemic, people booked 30 to 60 days out. Now people are pick up and go. People are booking for this weekend or next weekend. There are lots of quickie bookings."