Space tourism to transform sleepy T or C town

Published on : Tuesday, December 3, 2013

space tourismThe town of Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, is a tiny, inconspicuous town. Its handful of attractions include some vintage hot spring resorts (pre-World War II, the town was a hotspot for wellness tourism), some nearby ghost towns and roaming buffalo. Al this put together Truth and Consequence (T or C) hardly attracted too many tourists. The population is barely 7,000, and the smattering of tourists it attracts throughout the year are undoubtedly lured by its rustic, small-town charm.


“Here, you’re in the middle of what I consider to be the real West,” says John Mulcahy, mayor of Truth or Consequences (or T or C, as it’s known locally).


“It’s a back-to-nature kind of place. I love to take my four-wheel drive and head out into the wilderness, where there are 100-mile vistas. There’s nothing like it in the United States.”


Not surprisingly, T or C lacks the name recognition of, say, Santa Fe or Albuquerque. But all that is set to change in the next couple of years, however, as the town is on the brink of becoming the epicenter for space tourism. Spaceport America — which next year is slated to send a troupe of multi-millionaires up into the stratosphere when Virgin Galactic moves in — is a mere 30 miles to the northeast.


“Spaceport America employs 1,300 people across New Mexico, and we’re looking to add another 1,800 jobs by 2018,” says Christine Anderson, executive director of Spaceport America and the New Mexico Spaceport Authority.


With an additional 200,000 yearly visitors projected once Virgin moves in — and the Spaceport completes its Welcome Center (which Anderson estimates will take another 16 months to finish) — T or C is likely to witness a serious uptick. In fact, experts estimate the population is likely to double.


“The number that I’ve seen that scares me the most is 3,000 people in our downtown on a Saturday,” admits Mulcahy.


Currently, the potential of space tourism has everyone in the area on high alert. Virgin are meeting with local tourism suppliers next month to help ready them for the supposed onslaught, while T or C has embarked on a mission to spruce up ahead of its visitors.


“We’re working hard to make the town more attractive, but at the same time, we don’t want it to lose its character. We don’t want a five-star hotel in downtown,” he says.


Still, it’s difficult to imagine Richard Branson’s clients, many of whom have paid $250,000 for their ticket to space, feeling content staying at the local budget hotel.


Southern New Mexico has been fairly free from economic development. That may change, however, when the Spaceport moves in “I would say there’s plenty of hotels to handle the initial amount of space tourists, but I don’t think there is anything (in the luxury market),” says Dr. Alison Green, an assistant professor at the William F. Harrah College of Hotel Administration in Las Vegas, Nevada.


While some have called on the luxury hospitality industry to anticipate the needs of the projected high-fliers, it seems many brands are slow to answer.


In April, CNN founder Ted Turner bought T or C’s Sierra Grande Lodge and Spa — one of the few upscale accommodations in the region — but other investors seem to be playing wait-and-watch..

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