The meetings boycott of Arizona that erupted over an immigration law (S.B. 1070) passed by the state last April has resulted in $141 million in lost meetings-related revenue for the state, according to a new study.
“Passage of the Arizona legislation triggered a fierce, national, public-opinion backlash against the state and led many national organizations and opinion leaders to call for economic boycotts,” according to Marshall Fitz and Angela Kelley, authors of Stop the Conference, a report by the Center for American Progress and the Elliot D. Pollack Co. “And the convention industry felt the effects of this backlash immediately when major groups and associations started canceling events and conventions in the state.”
The law was controversial because many feared that it would lead to racial profiling since it required Arizona’s police to question people about their immigration status based on a “reasonable suspicion” that they might be illegal immigrants.
By the time the courts struck down the controversial aspects of S.B. 1070 and the boycotts were called off in late July, the damage was already done to the meetings industry. The authors’ research found that the Arizona Hotel and Lodging Association’s estimate of a $15 million loss of room-night revenue was far too low, representing only one-third of the boycott-related meeting cancellations. The Washington, D.C.–based think tank calculates a $45 million loss of lodging revenue from canceled meetings and, overall, a loss of $141 million in direct spending by convention attendees and $9.4 million in tax revenues.
Further, the study projects potential losses from a decline in future convention bookings. The authors report meeting bookings through the Phoenix Convention and Visitors Bureau were down 35 percent in July and August 2010. Based on a midrange projection that bookings will drop 18 percent over the next year, Fitz and Kelley calculate a $75 million loss in delegate spending over the ensuing 12-month period. If bookings drop just 5 percent, a low-range scenario, the loss of revenue would be $21 million.
However, Arizona tourism officials challenge the authors’ assumptions. "The Governor's Taskforce on Tourism and Economic Vitality was not consulted on this research,” said Sherry Henry, chairwoman, Governor's Taskforce on Tourism and Economic Vitality, in a statement. “Although we are well aware that the travel and tourism industry was impacted this year and previously due to many economic issues, determining the true economic loss or gain from these issues is difficult at best,” Henry added. “What we are hearing now are some preliminary but cautiously optimistic signs of improvement as our industry continues to work in a unified fashion to promote Arizona as a premier leisure destination and convention location."