SAN FRANCISCO — Arizona’s travel industry has a message for colleagues across the country: Keep close tabs on proposed legislation.

The industry, "blindsided" by Arizona’s tough new immigration law, stands to lose $90 million or more in meetings and conventions business because of it, said Debbie Johnson, CEO of the Arizona Hotel & Lodging Association and the Arizona Tourism Alliance.

"We’ve got 40 canceled groups. More than that, our phones are not ringing," she told an audience at the California Travel Industry Association annual conference. "It breaks my heart that a political issue has become all about tourism."

Adding to the woes is that the Arizona Office of Tourism budget was cut by 70% this spring and one third of its staff was let go. "There’s no money" for any advertising, said Johnson, who leads an industry task force that will report to Gov. Jan Brewer June 14 on ways to shore up visitor confidence.

The impact of the immigration law will be felt far into the future because of the lead time of convention bookings, said Steve Moore, president and CEO of the Phoenix Convention & Visitors Bureau.

"When groups cancel or don’t book for this year or next, that means we’re out of their rotation and they may not come back for many years," he said.

Moore pleaded with industry members to stay on top of potentially harmful legislation before it is enacted.

Johnson and Moore said they believe there isn’t much marketing the industry can do in the next month: The law goes into effect July 29, and they are bracing for intense media coverage, more possible boycotts and reaction from jittery meetings and convention planners.

Most of the harm will be in convention and meetings, Johnson said. Because a majority of Americans appear to support the measure, she believes cancellations by leisure travelers disturbed by the law will be offset by those who are not bothered by it.

Joe D’Alessandro, president and CEO of the San Francisco Convention & Visitors Bureau, told the audience that he struggled unsuccessfully to convince city leaders not to vote to boycott Arizona (several other major U.S. cities have since followed suit).

"Travel boycotts don’t work. What happens is that working people, a lot of whom are Latinos, are the ones who are hurt. As an industry we have to say that boycotts are wrong."

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