Baby boomers of a certain age may vaguely recall when a small town in southern New Mexico, then called Hot Springs due to the natural hot springs in the area, agreed to change its name in 1950 to Truth or Consequences.
Ralph Edwards, the host of a popular radio and soon-to-be TV quiz show (called, of course, Truth or Consequences) offered to broadcast the show from any town that would change its name to, you guessed it, Truth or Consequences, in honor of the show’s tenth anniversary. Edwards returned every year for decades on the anniversary, and Truth or Consequences turned the occasion into a celebration called the T or C Fiesta. (The town is now usually referred to simply as T or C by the locals).
T or C gained reams of national publicity at the time and has been something of a tourist magnet ever since, based as much on its unusual name as its hot springs. Kind of like Hell, Michigan, and Intercourse, Pennsylvania.
Now T or C , having tasted the economic fruits of what can only be described as way-out-there branding way back in 1950, is hoping for another tourist boom to come its way in the form of Spaceport America, under construction since 2008, the first purpose-built launching site for commercial passenger space flights. Located in a remote area about 30 miles southeast of T or C, it’s said to have the right combination of low population density, uncongested airspace and high elevation for such flights.
The hopes for Spaceport America rest on the shoulders of Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Airlines, who has now founded Virgin Galactic, which is designed to fly commercial passengers into space. The first launch may come as early as next summer, though several previous expected launch dates have come and gone, and many locals fear they may be delayed further due to (understandable) safety concerns.
There’s some sense of urgency because T or C has recently fallen on hard economic times, with about a third of its residents living below the poverty level. There are still hotels and restaurants to serve visitors, though, and, according to a piece from Public News Service, T or C city commissioner Steven Green expects the tourist boom from Spaceport America to create hundreds or even thousands of new jobs, which could be enough to keep everyone in his town of 6,000 people happily employed, should they so wish.
Green noted that tourism has already shot up since Spaceport America opened, with spectators coming there to watch NASA and the U.S. Air Force launching various rockets and research flights into space. Two visitor centers are being planned, one in T or C and one at the Spaceport. But some new hotels and restaurants are being built near the Spaceport site, not in town, so it remains to be seen how much of the tourism effect will actually benefit T or C itself.
As for the space flights themselves, they rely on an aircraft carrying a spaceship to high altitude and then releasing it to fly further into space. Several hundred people have reserved seats so far, at a cool $250,000 per shot.
My guess is that among the Hollywood celebrities and Silicon Valley entrepreneurs aboard will be a number of baby boomers seeking the ultimate bucket trip. After all, baby boomers control the bulk of the money in the United States, and $250,000 is nothing to sneeze at. On the other hand, you could drop that amount on 250 nights at certain luxury resorts right here on terra firma, so why not go for it?
But my real question is, will Truth or Consequences decide to change its name to something like, oh, Spaceport America? After all, Ralph Edwards died back in 2005 and the quiz show Truth or Consequences is long gone and may have outlived its usefulness.
It may just be time to update the brand.
Readers, would you take a commercial space flight if you had an extra $250,000 to burn? Or will space tourism prove to be a bust?
Be sure to download my free report, “How to Ride the Coming Wave of Boomers,” available here. It’s all about the best ways to market travel to baby boomers — the biggest-spending group of travelers the world has ever seen. It’s also the easiest way to subscribe to my blog, so you won’t miss a posting. Thanks!