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Originally published in Taos News

Last June, Sunset Magazine listed Taos among the 45 best places to hike in the West. USA Today highlights it in “Beautiful New Mexico” and names Taos “the top pick” for August travel. Taos’ appeal as a tourist destination is widely recognized, yet many visitors don’t know quite what to do once they are here.

Alyson Hyder, who was the Taos Ski Valley Chamber of Commerce Director for 6 years, noticed that.

“I talked to a lot of visitors,” she said, “and realized that many of them arrived with a huge lack of knowledge on what there is to do.”

While most people have heard of the main sightseeing attractions —the Pueblo, the Gorge Bridge and some museums— few were aware of the unique activities and places that exist here.

“For many years I had had a dream of creating a Central Reservations where guests could book everything in a one stop shop through the Chamber,” Hyder said. “This would have brought some revenue to the Chamber, which is a nonprofit with limited funds.”

But her idea was never implemented so Hyder moved on in October of 2013.

“I had owned the domains of BookTaos.com, BookSantafe.com,BookNewMexico.com, and BookAlbuquerque.com for two years prior,” she said, “and really wasn’t sure if I could ever set up this business on my own as it is an enormous endeavor.”

But then, she said, “When we are properly focused on a project, Taos guides us so we can carry it out.”

Hyder shattered her ankle and needed surgery, which meant that she could not walk for three months.

“Since I was bedbound and in a wheelchair, I decided to build the websitesBookTaos.com and Booktaosdirectory.com,” she said.

An online concierge

Hyder considers BookTaos.com “as a concierge of sorts,” where excursions can be booked and paid for in advance.

“As a result, visitors will be able to discover things in Taos they might otherwise miss and will have a guarantee, by booking in advance, that the activities of their choice will be available to experience when they want,” she said.

But when Hyder started building BookTaos.com she realized that something was still missing there.

“How do people find a locksmith when they lock their keys in their car, how do they find a restaurant that serves seafood when they are here, how do they find a good hair salon?” she asked. “Often, visitors don’t know anybody in town and have no idea of where to go, since many businesses close at five p.m.”

She created an online directory inside the BookTaos website, where visitors can search for swimming pools, doggy daycare, grocery stores, florists, and much more.

The directory is an app for Android and Iphones and is free to download.

From New Zealand to Taos

Hyder, who is originally from New Zealand, has worked in the hospitality industry for many years. She has also been a landscaper and an artist.

“Actually, I was trained as an alternative therapist specializing in Cranio Sacral therapy,” she said. “After working in this field for over 15 years, I got to a point where I needed a break and a change of career for a while.”

She traveled to Nepal and Kathmandu and did a Vippasana retreat where she meditated for 14 days in silence.

“That was an experience!” she said.

She also volunteered at a Montessori School in a Buddhist community in Sri Lanka.

“Then, I decided to become a ski bum for four months and found a job online with the Cottams in October of 2002,” she said. “I arrived here with no home and $200! Barbara Cottam embraced me and gave me a room in a house in the ski valley, and I started working two days later. She and John were incredible to my introduction to the United States and ultimately, my decision to stay here and make it my home.”

A few years later Hyder became the Executive Director at the Ski Valley Chamber of Commerce, where she created a new website and increased membership. She also put together events like the Taos Mountain Music Festival, which she organized with Alejandro Blake in 2009.

“The Festival was a huge success,” she said. “It would be nice to see that event revived again. But in the meantime, I am planning to market Taos as the perfect destination for special events, like gay weddings.”

Booking everything

Hyder’s goal is “to book everything that can be booked in Taos.”

“Many local recreational businesses are owner-operated and it takes an enormous amount of time to manage everything from answering phones, bookkeeping and actually being the front person,” she said. “Sometimes there is just not enough time to pay attention to the marketing aspect of businesses. I will be marketing every aspect of my business and every vendor along with it.”

So, how does BookTaos work?

Basically, it raises awareness of all there is to do in Taos in one user-friendly platform.

BookTaos.com makes it easier for people who are planning a vacation to Taos, to customize their itinerary by booking lodging, activities, ski packages, and even dinner reservations in real time online,” Hyder said. “I also operate a call center from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily, where prospective visitors can ask questions and get answers from a locals’ perspective.”

The directory displays businesses that a tourist or part-time visitor may need to know about.

“The listings on there are sold for just $100 per year,” Hyder said. “A lot of local businesses do not have websites so this is a way they can be found.”

The website includes a dropdown menu of suggested activities exclusive to Taos, which range from cooking classes to llama trekking tours to rock climbing.

“We look forward to welcoming new guests by customizing a vacation package for this special place that Taos is,” Hyder said.

For more information, visit www.BookTaos.com,  contact Alyson Hyder at 575-770-0257 or marketing@booktaos.com.

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