In the week after Arizona legislated racial profiling with the passage of the shameful SB 1070, meeting professionals have been gripped by discussions of whether Rep. Raúl Grijalva was right or wrong with his call for a boycott of meetings in the state, and whether the effects will fall disproportionately on the hospitality and tourism work force.
Important as those concerns are, it looks like the horse has already left the barn—driven out, no doubt, by Gov. Jan Brewer and Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, amid questions about the horse’s lineage. The real questions for Arizona are how fast the boycott will pick up momentum, how long it will continue before it runs out of steam, and how widely it will extend to people who stay away for practical reasons, whether or not they personally object to SB 1070.
The legalities of a meetings boycott are a different story.
“It’s extraordinarily straightforward as a matter of law,” said Dallas hospitality attorney Steve Rudner, whose strenuous objections to the bill itself made for inspiring reading on an industry discussion board. “If a group wants to take what it believes to be a courageous stand and cancel a meeting for any political reason in support of any boycott, they have the right to do that. The significant question is, who should pay for that stand?”
Through that lens, “the courageous thing for a group that wants to cancel is to say, ‘We’re canceling, this is our political position, and enclosed is our check.’ Anything short of that, I think, is not quite so brave.”
Even then, he said, going to the wall for your beliefs may not be the best way to bring about change. “We all recognize that the people hurt by a boycott are the waiters, the maids, the gardeners, and the directors of sales and GMs, as well,” many of whom would support the goals behind a boycott. “Maybe it’s smarter for me to have the meeting, but take [the money that would have gone to pay the] cancellation fee and put it into a lobbying effort to change the law that I don’t like.”
Mike Rowan, St. Louis–based strategic accounts manager with Experient, said the question is whether canceling meetings is the only way to object to a measure like SB 1070. “The biggest unintended consequence of this whole bill was the 3.8 million Mexican tourists who come into Arizona every year who are now being warned by their government not to travel there. Do you think the people behind this bill thought that through? I can’t see that.”
For U.S. meetings, as well, SB 1070 “is not painting a pretty picture,” Rowan said, noting that one client with an interest in human resources and diversity has asked him to look for alternate destinations for an upcoming meeting.
“It’s not about whether attendees who are Hispanic would have an issue, but the overall perception of whether [the organization] can support” holding a meeting in Arizona.
For groups that have already signedin the state, Rudner said lost attendance and revenue is factored into clauses. But Arizona should be more concerned about short-term accounts like Rowan’s HR client, and longer-range bookings that are being determined now. For the state’s meetings and hospitality business, the best hope is that SB 1070 will die a quick, unconstitutional death, rather than driving a wedge between the industry and its market for years to come.
Mitchell Beer, CMM, is president and CEO of The Conference Publishers Inc., one of the world’s leading specialists in capturing and repurposing conference content. Beer blogs at http://theconferencepublishers.com/blog. Send comments, facts, arguments, or column ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.