Tourism industry continues to fight for LGBT rights
Monday, June 12, 2017
With Pride Month underway, LGBT rights continue to be threatened across the country. So-called "bathroom bills" targeting the transgender community's right to use the bathroom in which they identify remains an ongoing battle in many state legislatures.
Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau President and CEO William Pate discussed how tourism bureaus and other travel entities can fight against these bills at the 3rd Annual Symposium on LGBT Tourism & Hospitality during LGBT Week last month in New York City.
Last year, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed a religious freedom bill that targeted gay and transgender people, thanks in no small part to the effort of the state's tourism industry.
"Our people work side by side without regard to the color of our skin or the religion we adhere to," Deal said during a news conference last year regarding the bill. "We are working to make life better for our families and our communities. That is the character of Georgia. I intend to do my part to keep it that way. For that reason, I will veto HB 757."
Pate said at the time that passing HB 757 would "have a substantial impact on our convention business and serve as an unnecessary distraction as we compete to host the largest sporting events in the country."
As a top tourism destination in the state of Georgia, Atlanta welcomed 51 million visitors in 2015. Visitors spent $15 billion during that time in the ATL.
"As one of the largest industries in Georgia, Atlanta's hospitality community is committed to welcoming and respecting the rights of all visitors to our city and state," he also added.
How exactly did Georgia veto a religious freedom bill that 21 other states have passed?
For one, the ACVB and the Metro Atlanta Chamber conducted separate studies showing the negative impact a religious freedom bill would have. In the studies, Atlanta stood to lose as much as $2 billion if the bill had passed. The CVB study also showed that Atlanta would have lost about 2.5 million hotel-room bookings over the next four years.
Besides outreach on social media decrying the bill, the bureau came up with a plan of action by meeting with the governor, lieutenant governor, speaker of the Georgia House and key legislators.
"Today, Gov. Deal ensured Atlanta's position as a top meetings and conventions destination by his swift action in vetoing HB 757," Pate said when the bill was vetoed. "By his decision, the governor has shown his continued support for one of the largest industries and employers in the state of Georgia."
While Georgia successfully got their religious freedom bill vetoed, another state has risen into the spotlight with their religious freedom bill.
In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott recently called lawmakers back for a 30-day special legislative session beginning in July. One of the top items on the agenda is a bill that would prevent municipalities from passing an anti-discrimination ordinances that would protect transgender people.
"At a minimum, we need a law that protects the privacy of our children in our public schools," said Abbott at a news conference about the special session.
A study conducted by Waco, Texas-based Perryman Group showed that the Texas tourism industry could lose $3.3 billion each year if a bathroom bill passes.
"This just undeniably proves that what we've been saying is the truth, that we know that such legislation such as SB 6 or the bathroom bill or any version of that would have an negative economic impact to San Antonio and around the state," Casandra Matej, president and CEO of Visit San Antonio, said in an interview.
That loss of business is exactly what North Carolina faced in 2016.
According to an Associated Press analysis, the Tar Heel state is expected to lose more than $3.76 billion in lost business over the next several years.
"Companies are moving to other places because they don't face an issue that they face here," Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan told a World Affairs Council of Charlotte luncheon last month. Bank of America is the largest company based in North Carolina.
"What's going on that you don't know about? What convention decided to take you off the list?" Moynihan said. "What location for a distribution facility took you off the list? What corporate headquarters consideration for a foreign company — there's a lot of them out there — just took you off the list because they just didn't want to be bothered with the controversy? That's what eats you up."
After partially repealing HB2, North Carolina has seen some business come back. After moving the 2017 NBA All-Star Game from Charlotte to New Orleans to protest the bill, the NBA recently announced that Charlotte will host the 2019 NBA All-Star game.
"While we understand the concerns of those who say the repeal of HB2 did not go far enough, we believe the recent legislation eliminates the most egregious aspects of the prior law," NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement.
The Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) also said they would reconsider North Carolina for future championship events.
The Texas tourism industry believes there will be losses if the bill is passed, but some do not believe the economic loss would be significant.
"This is the latest bogus study predicting economic doom if Texas passes a law protecting personal privacy," Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said in a statement regarding the Perryman tourism study.
"The question that must be asked to the tourism council who put out this report is why they believe tourists will want to visit a place where any man can lurk and loiter in the ladies room?" he added.
While the LGBT community celebrates in the month of June, the battle wages on for LGBT rights.
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