By Zelie Pollon
SANTA FE, New Mexico (Reuters) - New Mexico tourism officials on Tuesday are launching a new slogan, "New Mexico True," that they hope will change perceptions of the state as "barren," "dull" or merely "close to Arizona," as focus-group participants said last year.
The goals of the slogan and advertising campaign are to lure to the state adventure-seeking young people with a "thirst for authenticity" and to combat the misconception that there's nothing to do in New Mexico, said state tourism secretary Monique Jacobson.
"New Mexico is about site doing, not sightseeing," Jacobson told Reuters. "It's a place with true beauty, adventure and rich, authentic experiences."
The $2 million campaign kicks off on Tuesday in Texas, Arizona and Colorado.
Television advertising spots, created by Austin, Texas-based Vendor Inc., highlight couples, families and individuals relaxing in natural hot springs, kayaking, making pottery or guiding llamas down winding forest paths.
Print ad tag lines include "Adventure that feeds the soul begins here." Another is an effort to appeal to those who suffer from heat waves in their home states: "A state can be a beautiful air conditioner."
The campaign got off to a rocky start earlier this year when its casting call ad requested Caucasian or light-skinned Hispanic actors. Newspaper editorials castigated state officials for a lack of tact.
Jacobson declined to comment on the casting call, saying: "We hope that's behind us now. The spot really does celebrate New Mexico."
New Mexico's $5.5-billion tourism industry - its second-largest, behind oil and gas - employs more people than any other industry in the state, accounting for 56,000 jobs. Yet the state ranks 38 in the country in terms of number of visitors, according to Jacobson.
Some 29.8 million people visit New Mexico each year, but many of them are just passing through. The state gets 13 million overnight visitors per year, Jacobson said.
Among the state's recent visitors are Judy Hargis, 64, and Walt Hargis, 70 from Colorado. The couple was headed to Texas but said heavy rainfall made them change their minds and come to Santa Fe.
"I'm surprised at how beautiful it is here compared to eastern Colorado, where it's dry, flat and the wind blows all the time," Judy Hargis said last week.
Ron Pomerantz, 58, and Karen Pomerantz, 60, were passing through Santa Fe last week on a cross-country road trip from south Florida to Juno, Alaska. Ron Pomerantz called Santa Fe a "great little town with galleries unlimited."
"Our trip is short this time around, but we'll come back and spend some time because New Mexico looks a lot better than Texas and it's not Arizona," he said.
(Editing By Corrie MacLaggan and Greg McCune)