There’s often a delicate tension in northern New Mexico over tourism. While the hospitality industry is a dominant economic force in places such as Santa Fe and Taos, bringing in gobs of money, creating jobs and funding local governments via taxes generated by visitor spending, locals decry its inarguable impact on historic local culture. Some are just generally annoyed by out-of-staters wandering around, looking like tourists and asking for directions or trying to figure out the local traffic grid.
The latter attitude is off-base. Welcoming visitors is basic human courtesy and, as we’ve said before, what we New Mexicans hope for when we cross state lines for a vacation, to see family or on a business trip.
We have a whole state department dedicated to getting people to come to New Mexico. We can argue among ourselves about how much tourism is too much. And it can be entertaining to recount humorous encounters with confused visitors or just how outrageous some of them look in their new cowboy outfits. But don’t blame people if they heed that “New Mexico True” call and show up here, looking for fun, relaxation or retail therapy in what we, after all, call the Land of Enchantment.
Now, the COVID-19 pandemic has added a new twist to how we react to tourism in New Mexico.
In Taos, as detailed in a recent news story by the Journal North’s Kyle Land, there’s resentment that tourists from COVID hotbed states may be endangering the local populace.
As of earlier this month, many were clearly violating Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s virtually impossible-to-enforce order that they quarantine for 14 days before going out to enjoy New Mexico’s blue skies. Many also weren’t wearing face masks, despite signs about mandated masks posted all over town.
On social media, locals say the visitors are putting the town at risk. Residents and tourists reported that cars with out-of-state plates were getting keyed and people were throwing rocks at visitors or yelling at them to leave. And the message “Go home” has been graffitied on walls around town.
That all sounds pretty ugly. But it’s a fact that things are different these days – there’s a pandemic. You should and, in fact, are required to wear a mask to help protect everyone. Health officials urge us to restrict travel. As official talking heads say over and over, the coronavirus doesn’t care about state lines.
Taos merchants hit hard by the virus’ effects on the local and national economies, of course, welcome the summer rush of outside shoppers. But should Taoseños in general be happy that Texans or Arizonans fled their pandemic outbreaks to come to the shelter of New Mexico’s relatively low COVID-19 infection rates?
It’s tough to say how locals in such tourist towns as Taos and Santa Fe should react. Shops and restaurants with outside dining remain open and, despite gentle official efforts to encourage out-of-staters to stay home and come here at some other time, New Mexico hasn’t put up barricades at its borders. So, we’re open business.
On the other hand, many of us are ourselves eschewing travel and other activities as anti-virus protections, and wish others would do the same, for the common good.
So, what to do, good people?
First, we say that face masks are such an important and simple virus preventative that anyone – tourist or not – who goes out without a mask should expect some, uh, feedback on the streets or inside a store.
Many of us who veer toward conflict avoidance are reticent to badger strangers on this issue, but to those who aren’t so shy, we say more power to them, as long as they are as polite as possible. The same goes for approaching people who aren’t social distancing.
Local authorities should be issuing warnings first, and then citations, to the mask-averse and be on the lookout for violators at popular tourist locations, such as the plazas in Taos and Santa Fe.
As far as yelling at tourists simply for being tourists, that kind of behavior crosses the line. Throwing rocks at them, for whatever reason, or keying cars constitutes criminal behavior.
It’s a hard world right now. But maybe the best advice for how to deal with crowds of tourists during the pandemic is either to avoid them as much as possible or to kill them with kindness (from a safe distance).