Albuquerque Learns to Love ‘Breaking Bad’

It may be a show about the methamphetamine trade, but its popularity has tourists interested in New Mexico's largest city. And it's something the city's Convention and Visitors Bureau embraces—now.

Many critics say it’s the best show on television right now. For some, it’s the best show ever.

And for the Albuquerque Convention and Visitors Bureau, it’s an opportunity to drum up interest in the New Mexico city—albeit one that its tourism industry has only slowly come to embrace.

That’s because Breaking Bad, the AMC drama that began airing the last half of its final season on Sunday, is about the illegal drug trade. That sober topic is a ways from the hot-air balloons and ethnic culture that previously defined Albuquerque to the outside world. But the CVB found a way to leverage the show’s popularity—in part, because the tourists just kept coming.

“It’s been great for the city and given us new avenues to promote the city along with our film tourism program,” CVB spokeswoman Megan Mayo Ryan told the Los Angeles Times.

More details:

Why here? Series creator Vince Gilligan initially planned to film the show in California but set the show in New Mexico instead, drawn by the state’s financial incentives. He and  series star Bryan Cranston have come to see the city as integral to the show’s feel. “It has a stealth charm,” Gilligan explained in a recent interview with the New York Times. “Once you get into the neighborhoods, you realize it possesses a great amount of culture and history and natural beauty surrounding it.”

Take a tour: By the fifth season, the Albuquerque CVB had come to embrace the show’s tourism draw. The bureau created a microsite that shows off a number of avenues  for fans take in the aura of the hit show—from tours (via bike or trolley) of the real-life inspirations for locations in the show to locally produced products such as rock candy, bath salts, and donuts inspired by the show’s main product. “The city of Albuquerque stars as a character in the series with film locations throughout the metro area,” the microsite states. Some of the tour locations, such as a Twisters burrito restaurant, which doubles as the front business “Los Pollos Hermanos” on the show, have particularly proven a hit with visitors.

Given the show’s subject matter, making this work can be a challenge, but the CVB and city officials have come to trust viewers’ common sense.

“I am confident that viewers have no difficulty distinguishing fiction from reality,” Mayor Richard J. Berry told USA Today. (For one thing, the crime rate in Albuquerque, while up lately, remains low.)

Are there opportunities for your organization to leverage pop culture? (In a similar vein, consider how the National Association of the Deaf embraced the show Switched at Birth.) Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

The ABQ Trolley Co. is one of the city's tourism-oriented companies that has embraced "Breaking Bad." (photo by Albuquerque CVB/Flickr)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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