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Arizona Boycott Goes Viral As State's Tourism Industry Tries to Fight Back

While Arizona tourism tries to resist the tidal wave of anti-Arizona sentiment triggered by the state's passage of a tough new law that targets illegal immigrants, it may be a losing battle when stacked up against viral social media and negative word-of-mouth. Worse, the state looks to lose 3.8 million visitors a year from Mexico, whose citizens are now leery of police stops and harassment.

The Arizona Hotel and Lodging Association set up its own Facebook page, called "Don't Boycott AZ Tourism" most likely to battle the three other "Boycott Arizona" Facebook pages already in use, a petition site and a general Arizona-bashing. The Facebook page, which has the sub-headline of "Don't punish 200k tourism employees for politics," so far has 802 followers. The primary Boycott Arizona page has more than 11,000. That's what the Arizona hospitality industry is up against -- a very aggressive and antagonistic social media campaign oppposed to Arizona's controversial new anti-immigrant laws.

So far it's working. The American Immigration Lawyers Association notified JW Marriott in Scottsdale that it will cancel a 300-plus person event, saying, "We didn't feel it was appropriate to have a meeting in (the) state."

At the Arizona Inn in Tucson, 12 customers canceled reservations or said they wouldn't come to the state because of the recent law.

"This is a very scary situation that the police can now just come up to you for no reason and ask for papers," Joy Mann, a prospective guest who had previously stayed at the inn, wrote . . . in an e-mail message. "My son is a construction worker and is very suntanned. I cannot ask him to join us there now, as I would fear for him."
The law may have even more consequences for international tourism. Visitors to Arizona spent $18.5 billion and supported about 167,000 jobs in 2008. Out of the 37 million visitors staying overnight, about 3.8 million came from Mexico, the largest single source of international visitors. The new anti-immigrant laws that may mean being pulled over by police and required to prove immigration status, will affect those visitors most. On Tuesday, Mexico issued a travel advisory for its citizens, telling them, "It must be assumed that every Mexican citizen may be harassed and questioned without further cause at any time."

The advisory is kind of a switch for Mexico, because it turns the tables on the many U.S. State Department advisories released on Mexico that cover everything from drug cartel violence to swine flu. With Arizona's international visitorship decimated, the state now must rely on domestic visitors -- many of which come from liberal California, where cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles are seeking official boycotts of the state. Late Tuesday, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), leader of the California State Senate, also proposed a statewide boycott of Arizona.

In the end, while many in the hotel and hospitality industry are now crying foul and asking visitors to not hurt them personally -- the Arizona Office of Tourism and the Greater Phoenix Economic Council were conspicuously silent as the anti-immigrant bill became a law. Neither wanted to touch the political hot potato, but now both are paying a price for their laissez-faire attitude. Now almost a week later, the Greater Phoenix Economic Council is talking, but only after it realized it had much more to lose than gain by the legislation.

From the Arizona Republic:

Those close to the state's tourism industry worry that it could suffer the brunt of a backlash from the new law.

"I think it will be really easy for someone to pass us over on a convention decision now," said Barry Broome, president and CEO of the Greater Phoenix Economic Council, which has been trying to promote Arizona as a good place to do business.

The enormity of a boycott has struck home to many hoteliers, including the Asian American Hotel Owners Association (its members own 40% of U.S. hotels) which is lobbying lawmakers to reconsider the law. Other industry insiders agree.

According to the Arizona Republic:

"I don't see anything good for tourism in this," said Bruce Lange, managing director of the Westin Kierland Resort and Spa and former chairman of the Valley Hotel & Resort Association.

"It's just one of those issues that makes people uncomfortable. When people get uncomfortable, it's a lot easier to say, 'I don't want to go there,' " he added.

Diane Enos, president of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, which last week opened the 400-room Talking Stick Resort and casino east of Scottsdale, said the bill is not good for Arizona.

"It does not put our best face forward to visitors, particularly to international travelers," she said in a statement.

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