The boycott over SB 1070 is costing Arizona hotels and resorts out-of-state visitors, most agreed Tuesday at the Governor’s Conference on Tourism, but participants also said that getting many details about cancellations is a problem.
Organizations that cancel meetings or choose not to book future meetings because of the controversy over the new state immigration law don’t want their names used, members of a panel on the problem said.
“People want to know who canceled. They want to put a name to these,” said Brian Johnson, managing director of Loews Ventana Canyon, the resort where the annual tourism conference is being held this week.
But the panelists said disclosing names is not something that can be done in the corporate resort and hotel world. The implication: Resorts’ and hotels’ parent companies might lose their business at properties in other states.
Johnson said it’s “scary” to see what’s happening to tourism statewide. Leads on new businesses are starting to dry up, he said, even as the overall economy starts to recover.
“As we look into the rest of the year, and into 2011, (tourism) seems to be slowing,” said Johnson, who also is a past president of the Southern Arizona Lodging and Resort Association.
“That’s the scary part now. Now no one is talking to us. Avoidance. It’s easier to go to another state. My fear right now is what’s going to be facing us in 2011.”
A consensus at the conference agreed that tourism industry members and elected officials must push a positive message to reverse the downward trend in tourism – and to alleviate concern that the impact might worsen as the overall economy improves.
“Arizona is the same wonderful place it was six months ago,” said Debbie Johnson, president and CEO of the Arizona Hotel & Lodging Association. “We’re telling people to communicate the facts – that Arizona is a safe and welcoming destination.”
The other part of the message has been that the boycott is hurting the estimated 200,000 Arizona workers and their families who depend on tourism for a living. But that’s the message the association and other tourism groups have been pushing since the boycott began.
Some conference participants placed their hopes in the $250,000 in state funds allocated to start an official national campaign to counter negative publicity.
One of the plans presented would have industry association officials and resort and hotel management people making media appearances throughout the country to push Arizona tourism.
And with nationally distributed accounts of beheadings along the border and kidnapping epidemics in Phoenix, conference members said there is a lot to counteract.
Debbie Johnson said that every time Arizona illegal immigration receives any national media attention, things get worse.
As an example, the CEO cited a story she said she heard from a tourism industry source:
Visitors planning to come to a Sedona resort, Johnson recounted, called to ask if it was safe to drive up Interstate 17 from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport in light of recent violence.