In­di­ana faces tourism back­lash over anti-LGBT law

The China Post - - WORLD BUSINESS - BY LAU­RYN SCHROEDER

In­di­ana tourism agen­cies are rolling out cam­paigns em­pha­siz­ing that ev­ery­one is wel­come, but it might not be enough to quickly re­store the state's bat­tered im­age af­ter a back­lash over its re­li­gious ob­jec­tions law.

An up­roar sparked by fears that the law would al­low dis­crim­i­na­tion against gays and les­bians led a few con­ven­tion or­ga­niz­ers and per­form­ers to cancel events and some state and lo­cal gov­ern­ments to ban travel to the state last week. Re­vi­sions to the law's lan­guage have eased some of the crit­i­cism, but ex­perts say the state could be deal­ing with a dam­aged rep­u­ta­tion for years to come.

In a sign that In­di­ana is still un­der close scru­tiny, hun­dreds of gay rights sup­port­ers marched to the site of the NCAA Fi­nal Four in In­di­anapo­lis on Satur­day as col­lege bas­ket­ball fans were ar­riv­ing for the cham­pi­onship tour­na­ment games. The marchers called for the state to go fur­ther and en­shrine in its civil rights law pro­tec­tion for gays and les­bians.

Chris Gahl, vice pres­i­dent of Visit Indy, the lead pro­moter for In­di­anapo­lis, said he has been in "full cri­sis mode" since the furor erupted af­ter Repub­li­can Gov. Mike Pence signed the law late last month.

Gahl said Visit Indy re­ceived more than 800 emails from peo­ple say­ing they were can­cel­ing trips for events such as the In­di­anapo­lis 500 or choos­ing a dif­fer­ent va­ca­tion des­ti­na­tion. The agency has been scram­bling to pre­vent groups and busi­nesses from ei­ther pulling out of ne­go­ti­a­tions for fu­ture con­ven­tions or can­cel­ing up­com­ing events al­to­gether.

Two groups, in­clud­ing the public em­ploy­ees union AFSCME, have can­celed con­ven­tions, and Gahl said two oth­ers were on the fence. He put the eco­nomic im­pact of those events at a "healthy eight fig­ures."

"What keeps us up at night is the fact that 75,000 peo­ple de­pend on tourism for a pay­check," Gahl said. "And if we don't fill the city with con­ven­tions and vis­i­tors, they don't work."

The cri­sis isn't con­fined to In­di­anapo­lis. Fort Wayne, the state's sec­ond-largest city, has had six na­tional con­ven­tions ex­press con­cerns about con­tin­u­ing busi­ness in In­di­ana. If all six pulled out, it would rep­re­sent about US$1.2 mil­lion in rev­enue, said Dan O'Con­nell, pres­i­dent and CEO of Visit Fort Wayne.

Busi­nesses say they've been in­un­dated with emails from peo­ple ask­ing for re­as­sur­ance that they are wel­come in In­di­ana, or can­cel­ing or­ders or plans. The famed French Lick Re­sort, a ho­tel in a his­toric town in south­ern In­di­ana, is­sued a state­ment Fri­day say­ing it has "al­ways been open and in­clu­sive" and that the new law won't change that.

Traci Brat­ton, owner of the Hoosier Can­dle Com­pany in Day- ton, about 80 kilo­me­ters north­west of In­di­anapo­lis, said she's re­ceived emails from out-of-state cus­tomers who like her prod­ucts but say they won't be bring­ing their busi­ness to In­di­ana be­cause of the law.

But the im­pact is be­ing most keenly felt in In­di­anapo­lis, which has earned na­tional praise for its trans­for­ma­tion from a place once re­ferred to as "Nap­town" and "In­dia-No-Place" to a vi­brant, friendly city that used sports and a down­town re­nais­sance to land a Su­per Bowl and be­come a popular pit stop in what was once called "fly­over coun­try."

Indy Big Data, a tech con­ven­tion slated for May, has lost nine na­tional spon­sors, in­clud­ing Ama­zon and Cloud­era. GenCon, the city's largest con­ven­tion, has a con­tract with the city un­til 2020 to hold the an­nual gam­ing con­ven­tion, but Gahl said ne­go­ti­a­tions to ex­tend the agree­ment for an­other five years could fall through be­cause of the out­cry over the law. A de­par­ture of GenCon, which brings in about US$56 mil­lion each year, would be a huge loss, Gahl said.

Even though law­mak­ers have re­vised the lan­guage of the re­li­gious ob­jec­tions law to make clear that it's not in­tended to dis­crim­i­nate, In­di­ana still lacks statewide civil- rights pro­tec­tions for the gay and les­bian com­mu­nity. And eco­nomic ex­perts said per­cep­tions about the law could pre­vent com­pa­nies from at­tract­ing and re­tain­ing young tal­ent.

( 29.838)

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Taiwan

© PressReader. All rights reserved.