Tuesday, May 11, 2010

90 Million Dollars at Risk in Boycott of Arizona

Arizona Republic

by Jahna Berry - May. 11, 2010 12:00 AM
The Arizona Republic

Metropolitan Phoenix, which already has suffered convention cancellations because of Arizona's new immigration law, risks losing as much as $90 million in hotel and convention business over the next five years because of the controversy, according to city estimates.

The City Council will be briefed on the issue at 2 p.m. today

The new immigration law requires police to ask for proof of citizenship if they suspect someone is in the country illegally. The law has attracted international attention, as well as calls for tourists and businesses to boycott Arizona.

Phoenix city and tourism officials have compiled a "watch list" of about 20 events, said David Krietor, a deputy city manager tracking the issue.

The list consists of four organizations that have canceled events and more than a dozen others that have booked events but have expressed concerns about the new law.

Those watch-list events would affect city-run venues, such as the Phoenix Convention Center and the Sheraton Phoenix Downtown Hotel, as well as hotels and resorts around the Valley.

"We have an image and public-relations problem of what might be unprecedented proportions," Krietor said.

The $90 million figure represents the estimated amount that those groups' members would spend in the region. Some events are scheduled this year. Others are booked as far out as 2015.

People who attend Phoenix Convention Center events alone spend about $350 million each year, officials have said.

Recent cancellations include the oldest African-American Greek-lettered fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc., which was supposed to hold a July meeting at the Sheraton. The fraternity's annual convention

was expected to draw about 5,000 attendees and as many as 10,000 visitors, a fraternity spokesman said.

Organizers will now hold that event in Las Vegas.

Other cancellations, all for 2012, are the National Association of Black Accountants, the International Communications Association and the National Urban League.

The city did not have attendance estimates for all of the groups, but they represent about 16,000 room nights in local hotels, Krietor said.

Host city?

At today's meeting, the city is likely to discuss strategies to help retain tourism, Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon said.

But he worries that the impact of the immigration debate is already creating a ripple effect.

Some conventions that have decided to stay in Phoenix don't want to publicize that fact because they fear being boycotted themselves, Gordon said.

He also has heard that conventions that have decided to stay in Phoenix are getting fewer attendees and fewer sponsors.

"It's a near economic crisis," Gordon said.

The watch list does not include the Republican and Democratic national conventions in 2012. Phoenix is being considered for both, but both parties are under pressure to avoid metro Phoenix.

Democratic leaders were in Phoenix a few weeks ago, but are in the early stages of the selection process.

Phoenix is one of three finalists for the GOP gathering, along with Salt Lake City and Tampa.

Millions are at stake. The convention where President Barack Obama accepted the Democratic nomination generated $266 million in economic spending in the region, according to a Denver study.

On Wednesday, the 168-member Republican National Committee will hear the selection panel's recommendation, spokesman Jahan Wilcox said.

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