Memo to Florida’s convention and visitors’ bureaus, meeting planners, travel agents and anyone else with any real heft in our tourism industry: Arizona’s giving us another opportunity.
You’d think a state that experienced economic boycotts because of its reluctance to ratify the federal Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday would have learned its lesson. Now the Arizona Legislature approves a bill that cracks down hard on illegal immigrants, making it a crime to be in the state illegally and requires law enforcement officers to check the legal status of those they suspect to be undocumented.
Can you say profiling with a capital “P”?
The bill’s a stretch at best in dealing with a very real problem. Unfortunately, it also has tarnished the state’s reputation, which is usually bad for business. A Roman Catholic cardinal in Los Angeles likened it to “German Nazi and Russian Communist techniques.” One Democratic congressman has urged minorities to take their business meetings, conventions, family reunions and vacations elsewhere — and he’s from Arizona.
I smell payback!
Remember when the Sunshine State watched as its Grapefruit League began morphing into Arizona’s spring Catcus League. Major League Baseball’s spring training camps used to bring in the tourists, not to mention the big bucks that came with them. Even the steady stream of seniors have slowed to a trickle as other states, including hot, dry Arizona, chip into what used to be the geriatric gold mine for Florida’s economy.
Florida’s tourism industry can step up its game by marketing the state as a diverse and, unlike Arizona, more tolerant travel destination. Celebration, South Beach, Sawgrass Mills, The Kennedy Space Center, even the “Redneck Rivera” in Florida’s Panhandle will show their visitors a good time, without worrying that the police will ask for proof of U.S. citizenship.
If you don’t believe diversity works, ask the folk at the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau. Under the stewardship of Albert A. Tucker, the bureau’s vice president of multicultural business development, the group has landed a series of association meetings, conferences and conventions that will produce more than 30,000 attendees in a two-year period. The area is also becoming a destination for minority family reunions.
It’s not like the industry can lean on the Florida Legislature to increase funding for tourism promotion. Times are tight and revenue’s still down. If another legislative body from another state wants to chip in, so be it.