Can You SayBy John Anderson

New Mexico is hot for meetings

Can You Say

It’s always Christmas in New Mexico. For any meeting planner or attendee who has had the pleasure of holding a meeting in this Southwestern haven, they’ll immediately understand: “Christmas” in the New Mexico sense has less to do about the holiday season of Santa Claus, and everything to do about the cuisine that is such a vital characteristic of life in the state.

Ask a local “red or green?” and they’ll know exactly what you mean—“red” refers to the chile peppers that are hung to dry on strings, or ristras, taking on a deep red color and a mellow flavor when used in cooking. “Green” are the ripe chiles picked and roasted fresh at the end of summer, and which tend to be spicier than the red variety.

Which brings us to “Christmas”: when you want both red and green chiles when ordering enchiladas, or some other regional Mexican (or New Mexican) dish, just ask for “Christmas.” For local New Mexicans, their choice of red or green is similar to an Irish pub patron and their choice of black or tan beer—a strongly personal preference and regular component of everyday life. And like wine vintage, the heat of the chile depends on the variety, growth and harvest conditions of individual crops in particular years.

“Most of the chiles are grown in this area of the state,” says Ken Mompellier, executive director of the Las Cruces Convention & Visitors Bureau. “During harvest time, all the stores are roasting chiles right out in the street.” And as far as his personal choice, Mompellier chose the more diplomatic middle path. “I would switch. There were days when I felt like green, and days I would feel like red. Some places I liked their green, some places their red, and certain days the chiles were hotter. Some days [one chile] is just hotter than the other one.”


Strings of drying chiles.

Mompellier says that while Mexican cuisine is a celebrated staple of the entire state, southern New Mexicans tend to shy away from it while traveling in the northern part of the state. “It’s different,” he says, diplomatically. “You acquire the taste for what we do here. I love Mexican food, but I don’t eat Mexican food when I leave here.” As Florida is to oranges and Idaho to potatoes, so New Mexico is to chiles. It’s the largest and most economically significant crop in the state, thriving in the warm, dry weather and 350 days of sunshine each year.

What makes New Mexican chiles grow so well, and become so prominent, is the same thing that will appeal to your attendees and turn your Southwestern meetings into a success—a charming and unique culture, warm, sunny weather and a dramatic landscape that varies from fertile valleys, rose-hued deserts and table mesas to high deserts and heavily forested mountains. The fifth largest state in area is also 36th in terms of population, so groups won’t ever feel penned in, with numerous resorts and meetings properties to enjoy the view from, and millions of acres of national forest and park lands.

But even more obvious than New Mexico’s chile-laden cuisine and open vistas is the architecture of the state, and the ubiquitous adobe structures you’ll find everywhere from Carlsbad in the southeast to Farmington in the northwest. Homes, museums, churches, hotels and even meetings venues are constructed of the classic southwestern material that local Indian tribes have been using for centuries to build their pueblos. It’s a design style that’s so distinct and unique to the region that Southwestern immediately brings to mind the open wood beams and rustic interiors found throughout the state.


Golf near Santa Fe.

All these things together—Southwestern-design, adobe buildings, wild landscapes, unique culture, chiles red and green and more—can make for a meeting experience that is unlike any other. Whether you choose the capital of Albuquerque, artsy Santa Fe, quirky Taos, nature-bound Ruidoso or southern Las Cruces, New Mexico offers your attendees all they need for a unique meeting.


Albuquerque

The largest city in New Mexico at the crossroads of I-40 and I-25, Albuquerque was the was the sixth fastest growing city in the U.S. as of June 2007. You can see it in the new hotel projects and renovations, as well as the nightlife, culture and restaurant scene that continues to expand and take on a big-city feel. The historic Route 66 famously ran through the city, and still does—you can find street signs that let you know you’re traversing the fabled road, mostly along Central Avenue, which is lined in stretches with hip bars, shops and restaurants.

In fact, Central Avenue is a great introduction to the new and growing Albuquerque, running from downtown, past the University of New Mexico, through the trendy Nob Hill district and into the Uptown Area. The neighborhoods—downtown, Nob Hill, Uptown and Old Town—make up the four main districts, or quadrants, of the city. It’s where
you’ll find most of the meetings hotels and venues, as well as many of the area’s attractions.


Guest room at the Hyatt Regency Tamaya.

“[Albuquerque] is a wonderful medium-size city with a high desert feel to it, so it’s great for a year round mild climate—we have four seasons but each is mild,” says Larry Atchison, vice president of convention sales, services and sports, for the Albuquerque Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We’re small in that our airport is only five miles from downtown. We’re culturally rich, especially with Native Americans and Hispanic cultures, where Native Americans have lived for thousands of years. It’s tied into the different meetings that people have here, and they can weave that in at any part, from having [traditional] blessings to mariachi bands, to speakers that are coming in from the area that can readily address the [local] issues. We’re also the hot-air ballooning capital of the world.”

You can view some of that spectacular ballooning at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, which will be held in October, 2010. Other attractions include the National Hispanic Cultural Center, which features fine art exhibitions and concerts in the 97-seat Wells Fargo Auditorium and 291-seat Bank of America Theatre, both available for private groups, as is other space within the center. The Indian Pueblo Cultural Center houses artworks and archeological objects from the 19 Pueblo tribes of New Mexico, and includes the Pueblo House with a 1,000-square-foot classroom for groups.

One of the most exciting developments in Albuquerque over the past year is the emergence of the Rail Runner Express, a commuter train that runs from Santa Fe to Albuquerque, but which has quickly been adopted by visitors and meeting attendees who want to visit Santa Fe for the day. The service now runs every day and a day pass is at most $9. It’s a 90-minute ride between the two cities, and a free shuttle runs between downtown Albuquerque and Albuquerque International Sunport.

Meeting Venues

The largest meetings venue in the city is the Albuquerque Convention Center at 600,000 sq. ft., and walkable to several downtown hotels, such as the 395-room Hyatt Regency Albuquerque with 30,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. The historic Andaluz hotel reopened last summer after a $30-million renovation, and features 109 guest rooms and 7,346 sq. ft. of meeting space.

Just east of downtown in the Uptown area, near the recently opened Uptown ABQ shopping district, you’ll find the newly renovated Sheraton Albuquerque Uptown, offering 295 guest rooms and 17,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. South of the city, the Isleta Casino & Resort with 201 guest rooms and 30,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, opened in summer 2009 and is expected to be reflagged as a Hard Rock property this June. A short distance north of the city, and in the shadow of the stunning Sandia Mountains, the Sandia Resort & Casino features 228 guest rooms and 50,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. Also north and surrounded by wide-open spaces is the Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort & Spa, which has 350 guest rooms and 70,000 sq. ft. of indoor/outdoor meeting and event space.


Bishops Lodge conference room.

Santa Fe

Like a cultural oasis in the middle of the high desert of northern New Mexico, Santa Fe is not just the political capitalof the state, but also a center of arts and culture for the entire Southwest. The city is home to some 240 art galleries, many found along Canyon Road, with an opera, symphony, museums and theaters to keep visitors entertained every night of the week.

Celebrating its 400-year anniversary in 2010, Santa Fe is also blessed with beautiful surrounding nature that offers numerous activity options for groups, including some you may only find here. For instance, groups can go white-water rafting with an artist, stopping at regular intervals to sketch along the banks. “Creative tourism is a natural part of what we’re doing,” says Keith Toler, executive director of the Santa Fe Convention and Visitors Bureau, who adds that the anniversary will celebrate the “Indio-American, Hispanic and Anglo cultures here in Santa Fe.”

Meeting Venues

The city’s long-awaited Santa Fe Convention Center opened just over a year ago, and features 72,000 sq. ft. of total space, easily outdoing the previous center of 10,000 sq. ft. Designed in a hacienda style consistent with the local architecture, the center is LEED-Gold certified and gives the city space to host much larger groups, with approximately 1,500 hotel rooms within walking distance.

One such property is the La Posada de Santa Fe Hotel, Resort & Spa, featuring 157 guest rooms and 4,500 sq. ft. of meeting space. Another downtown option and just off the main plaza, is the Eldorado Hotel & Spa, which has 219 guest rooms and 22,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. For a hotel that’s as old and historic as Santa Fe itself, La Fonda on the Plaza is near the many shops, restaurants and galleries of the main plaza, and features 167 guest rooms and 21,275 sq. ft. of meeting and event space. Just 15 minutes outside of town, the Hilton Santa Fe Golf Resort & Spa at Buffalo Thunder offers 395 guest rooms, 66,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, a 36-hole golf course and a casino. Another out-of-town option is Encantado, an Auberge Resort opened in August 2008, featuring 65 casitas and 4,360 sq. ft. of meeting space.

Taos

Off-the-beaten-path is a fitting description of Taos, both literal and figurative. Located along a mountain highway more than an hour north of Santa Fe, the quirky town of Taos has a population of just 4,700, attracting a variety of artists and creative types throughout its long history, such as the writer D.H. Lawrence. It’s a history that dates back centuries with a Native American population and the Taos Pueblo, a traditional adobe complex that’s been in continuous use as a residence for more than 1,000 years and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

“We like to describe it as a place to relax, rejuvenate and reconnect,” says Jeanne Kitzman, sales and marketing manager at the Taos Convention Center. “We’re very unique. A challenge for us is that people think we’re hard to get to, but we’re not,” she says, citing daily nonstop flights from L.A., Dallas and Salt Lake City to Santa Fe on American and Delta Airlines.

Guest room at the Inn at Loretto.
Guest room at the Inn at Loretto.


“One of the real advantages to Taos is it’s very different from the rest of the U.S., in the way that New Orleans is different,” Kitzman says. “It’s a tri-cultural experience, very authentic and not as polished as Santa Fe. People walk away with a much better feeling of the history, you live it as you walk the shops along the plaza.”

Meeting Venues

The largest meeting venue in town is the Taos Civic Plaza & Convention Center, with 23,655 sq. ft. of total space. The center is within walking distance of several hotels on or near the plaza, including the historic Hotel La Fonda de Taos, offering 24 guest rooms and meeting space for up to 70. Nearby is the El Monte Sagrado, which has 84 guest rooms and 7,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.

Las Cruces

Located in the south of the state approximately 40 miles from the Mexican border, as well as El Paso, Texas, Las Cruces is another New Mexican city on the rise. “You look at the north, you’re gonna find a lot more Native American culture up there, and Hispanic culture. Here it’s a little more toned down, more a historic and cultural community,” says Mompellier of the Las Cruces CVB. “We’re right on I-10, and a lot of business goes across the country on I-10. Another thing that has kicked in, we’ve really become a place for retirees, with nice weather, a smaller community and affordability.”

 Indoor pool at the Sheraton Albuquerque Uptown.
Indoor pool at the Sheraton Albuquerque Uptown.

The big news in Las Cruces is the construction of a 55,000-square-foot convention center, due to open by January of 2011. Another addition that just came on line is the Hilton Garden Inn Las Cruces, which has 114 guest rooms and 2,865 sq. ft. of meeting space. Otherwise, the city is currently served by the New Mexico State University’s Corbett Center, with several meeting rooms and ballrooms, including an auditorium for groups up to 280. Dickerson’s Event Center is another option, with various meeting rooms and a courtyard for up to 600.

Ruidoso

Northeast of Las Cruces in the Sierra Blanca mountain range of south-central New Mexico, Ruidoso is a mountain village with nearby Ski Apache offering visitors and meetings-goers with great skiing opportunities at one of the southernmost ski resorts in the U.S. This heavily forested region of the state near Lincoln National Forest has a number of secluded resorts, including Inn of the Mountain Gods Resort and Casino, featuring 273 guest rooms and 40,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. The Ruidoso Convention Center is another option for groups, with 33,000 sq. ft. of total meeting and event space, including a 2,000-seat theater.

Getting there

  • The state’s busiest airport, Albuquerque International Sunport is approximately five miles from downtown Albuquerque, and within a 20-minute drive of most local hotels/attractions. Southwest Airlines handles half of all passengers; other carriers are American Airlines, Continental, Delta, Frontier, Northwest, United and US Airways.
  • Santa Fe Municipal Airport has daily nonstop service to Los Angeles (LAX) and Dallas-Ft. Worth (DFW) on American Eagle.
  • Driving brings many attendees to the state. Interstate 25 travels north to south, through Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Taos and Las Cruces. Interstate 40 roughly follows old Route 66, from east to west.