According to an Aug. 25 press release issued by the New Mexico Tourism Department, European management and consulting company Mangum Hills Balfour will “consolidate the Department’s activities under one agency and act as the office for New Mexico in Europe.”
What that apparently means is that all of New Mexico’s “branding, marketing and communication activities”—a phrase lifted entirely from Mangum Hills Balfour’s online description of its services—will now be handled by the Munich-based company that also maintains offices in London and Paris.
The goal, tourism honcho Michael Cerletti claims in the press release, is to send one message to the entire European market. Cerletti says the singular message is key to being competitive in the large and free-spending tourism target otherwise known as the European Union.
But what that message will be has yet to be revealed. What is this singular message that will play equally well with the punters in the United Kingdom and polka players in Estonia? Can we possibly hold out hope that it’s something more substantive than “New Mexico: We totally have Indians here?”
Inquiries to the Mangum Hills Balfour office, aka, “the office for New Mexico in Europe,” have so far gone unanswered.
“Ecotourism” was tossed around quite a bit in the press release in an “everyone knows Europeans are crazy for ecotourism” sort of way. And at the Tourism Department’s website, newmexico.org, ecotourism indeed proves to mainly rest on the shoulders of “twenty-two Native American tribes, among them the storied Navajo, Apache and Pueblo cultures.” Apparently, the “spiritual roots that sustain these tribes” can turn a “vacation into a transformative journey.”
Now, I’ve got no problem with pushing for tourism that’s more substantive than families pulling through in their SUVs and buying a couple of T-shirts and a breakfast burrito. But I’m unimpressed—to wildly paraphrase Sherman Alexie from his recent appearance at the Lensic Performing Arts Center—with Anglo culture’s presumption of the intrinsic “eco-ness” of Native Americans, some of whom are desperately clamoring for filthy coal-fired power plants to be built in their yards at this very moment. Trying to put better logos on the false spirituality that people—including chakra-sacks of Europeans—have been hunting in New Mexico for decades does not a deeper connection make.
Mangum Hills Balfour, I will assume, was chosen to be New Mexico’s sole European representative on the basis of its extensive work for the state of Texas. Brochures for Texas are actually the company’s only work examples on its website, alongside claims of increased bookings and growth revenue, even in the difficult summer of 2009. Judging from its materials, and its stated objective to “position Texas aggressively to the German-speaking market,” it looks like a largely cowboy-based ad campaign, with an occasional mountain biker and splash of natural wonder.
So it’s perfect. For New Mexico, Mangum Hills Balfour can basically replace with Indians the cowboys in its Texas material and, bada-boom, mission accomplished. Because, in addition to totally having Indians, we totally have occasional mountain biking and splashes of natural wonder. No doubt, there will be some opportunities for “transformational eco-golf” by the time all the polish has been rubbed into our new gem of a branding campaign.
There’s no doubt that Tourism Deputy Secretary Jennifer Hobson has worked hard to create an ecotourism brand for New Mexico, and has provided a platform on which to build an international marketing campaign—that’s honestly a good thing. But it feels like no one ever really bothers to reinvent tourism campaigns—they’re all fundamentally gilding the lily by taking sexier photographs of cowboys and Indians or using different filters on rocky outcroppings at sunset or recycling the implication of personal discovery. The bottom line always reads, “Please come quick: We really need the money.”
And we do need the money—but how do we connect the income stream from tourism to a broader spectrum of real life in New Mexico?
We’re told that Mangum Hills Balfour also will act as a conduit for activities beyond tourism, liaising on potential economic development initiatives. That’s exciting news, but can we expect the equivalent of an effort that trades on the safe and predictable in those realms as well—nuclear technologies, extractive industries and environmentally ill-suited recreation schemes? Or is there reason to believe Mangum Hills Balfour can view New Mexico as a home to smaller, more creative arts and sciences, and somehow build meaningful relationships for the small businesses here that, with a nudge, might launch an innovation-based economy for the state?
Aside from Texas, the company has one other high-profile client with promise in that direction, but it’s one that will strike fear into the hearts of many Santa Feans. Mangum Hills Balfour also represents CTIA, the International Association for the Wireless Telecommunications Industry, “dedicated to expanding the wireless frontier.”
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