Official: Arizona tourism worried by gay service refusal bill fallout

Feb 21, 2014, 12:03 PM | Updated: 6:22 pm

PHOENIX — An Arizona tourism leader is worried about the damage a bill allowing businesses to deny services to gays and others based on religion could cause.

Kristen Jarnagin, senior vice president of the Arizona Lodging and Tourism Association, said businesses are “gravely concerned” about the possible unintended consequences of the bill, and that could be an understatement.

“There’s concern especially as we’re gearing up to host the Super Bowl next year,” she said. “Our convention and visitor bureaus are getting calls, not only canceling their current trips, but threatening to never return. We definitely fear loss of conventions. There’s so much competition for tourism dollars that anything controversial that we are doing plays a negative role in the ability to attract visitors.”

Despite the bill not yet being signed into law, Jarnagin said her agency has received “dozens” of emails stating people would not be coming to Arizona purely because the state came up with this bill in the first place.

“Any time Arizona is publicized again for controversial reasons, people shy away from our state,” she said.

Jarnagin said the bill is not desired by the business community.

“I don’t know, from the business side of things, where the motivation is coming from,” she said.

Some may take the stance that tourism is not needed in Arizona’s economy, but Jarnagin called that a fool’s assumption.

“About 200,000 jobs in this state are directly tied to tourism and what that equates to…is $19.3 billion annually in spending, and, if still doesn’t resonate with you, the trickle-down effect is about $2.6 billion just in tax revenue.”

Jarnagin had some facts for Brewer that may sway her to veto the bill.

“We have a couple major hotel projects — one that could be about 1,000 jobs — we also have some major events that are shovel-in-the-ground ready to select Arizona that have told us, if those goes through, those are completely in jeopardy,” she said. “We know there is real business to be lost because of this.”

Jarnagin said she was surprised the Legislature pursued the bill, considering they have been supportive of laws that encourage growth and tourism in Arizona over the past few years.

Phoenix business owner Nohl Rosen said he has also received threats by customers to boycott his computer repair company if the bill becomes law.

The bill is expected to reach Gov. Jan Brewer’s desk on Monday. She would have until the close of business Saturday to veto or sign it into law.

Brewer doesn’t comment on pending legislation, but she vetoed a similar measure last year. That action, however, came during an unrelated political standoff, and it’s not clear whether she would support or reject this plan.

Arizona lost millions of dollars in tourism and convention revenue after the Gov. Jan Brewer signed Senate Bill 1070 into law.

KTAR’s Jim Cross and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Official: Arizona tourism worried by gay service refusal bill fallout