Meeting Mentor Magazine

April 2024

Florida Cancellations Could Lead to Collateral Damage

At least 10 meeting and event organizers at latest count have cancelled and/or moved their events from Florida because of the state’s political climate. Local CVBs and Destination International are among those who point out that this type of action could have unintended consequences that could hurt the very populations the groups intend to support.

Several groups have announced they’re taking their current meetings out of Florida, while others are taking the state off their potential site list for the indefinite future. Their reasons for cancelling and/or moving their events generally include new state laws that some organizations and their attendees find incompatible with their mission. Among the contentious legislation signed by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who is running for the GOP Presidential nomination, include a six-week abortion ban; a ban on gender-affirming care for minors and an expansion of the “Don’t Say Gay” law; state education restrictions on funding for diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programs; a law that allows Floridians to carry concealed weapons without a permit; and a controversial immigration law that some view as anti-immigrant.

In response, the NAACP issued a travel advisory to the state, saying, “Florida is openly hostile toward African Americans, people of color and LGBTQ+ individuals. Before traveling to Florida, please understand that the state of Florida devalues and marginalizes the contributions of, and the challenges faced by African Americans and other communities of color.” In April, the LGBTQ civil rights group Equality Florida and the Florida Immigrant Coalition also issued a travel advisory warning of the “risks posed to the health, safety, and freedom of those considering short or long term travel, or relocation to the state.” The Florida Immigrant Coalition also issued a warning that travel in the state “can be unsafe for people of color, individuals who speak with an accent, and international travelers.”

Most recently, the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, the country’s oldest intercollegiate Black fraternity, decided to move its 2025 conference out of Florida “due to Governor Ron DeSantis’ harmful, racist and insensitive policies against the Black community,” according to a press release from the organization. The fraternal group joins Game of Thrones fan convention Con of Thrones, which recently announced it was cancelling its 3,000-4,000–person convention at Orlando’s Orange County Convention Center (OCCC). The 2024 Grace Hopper Celebration, organized by women-in-technology organization AnitaB.org, has also pulled out due to political reasons, according to an article on Spectrum News 13, as has the Association of Perioperative Registered Nurses (AORN) Global Surgical Conference & Expo, which announced it is moving its 2027 convention of around 7,000 nurses and exhibitors to another state. The National Society of Black Engineers also has decided to move its 2024 convention from Orlando to Atlanta, saying the political climate “seeks to undermine what we stand for.” According to the South Florida Sun Sentinel, more than six conventions have cancelled planned events in Broward County, which includes Fort Lauderdale. Among them is aParent Miracles Foundation, which said the NAACP travel advisory was a factor in its decision not to bring its annual event back to Fort Lauderdale, according to a story on Local 10.com.

While some of the scheduled Pride events in Florida did cancel this year, others carried on. One was the annual Gay Days event in Orlando in June, though attendance was down. As Gay Days chief executive Joseph Clark told the Washington Post, “For some it’s the safety aspect, for others, they don’t want to spend money in a state that doesn’t support them,” Clark said. “My message has been, ‘We need your help here in Florida.’”

Florida CVBs Cite Reasons Not to Cancel

While Florida’s tourism business is multifaceted, conventions and conferences make up a sizable piece of the state’s almost $100 billion tourism economy, and Orlando still is the top U.S. destination in the 2023 Cvent Top Meeting Destinations list. Conventions also are big business in Fort Lauderdale, where, city officials told the Wall Street Journal “group travel including conventions makes up one-quarter of Broward County’s tourism business” and the cancellations could cost the county more than $20 million in lost hotel bookings, transportation, food and beverage, and other related expenditures. However, the economic impact will have a time-delay, since most of the events being cancelled are scheduled for 2024 and beyond, and many regions, such as Tampa, have not experienced any convention cancellations to date.

Hoping to stem the rising tide of cancellations, several Florida convention and visitors bureaus (CVBs) are pointing out that these new laws don’t mean that diverse groups aren’t welcome to meet in their destinations. “Orlando has always been and will continue to be a diverse, welcoming and inclusive community,” Casandra Matej, president and CEO of Visit Orlando, said in an article in the Orlando Sentinel. “As the top travel destination in the country and longstanding leader in the travel industry, our community has a history of welcoming all to our destination.”

Fort Lauderdale also has a history of celebrating diversity, including recommendations on multicultural attractions and its LGBTQ-friendly environment. As Richard Gray, Senior Vice President, Inclusion & Accessibility at Visit Lauderdale, pointed out in a press release, “We embrace every segment of the LGBT+ community to make everyone feel welcome, comfortable and safe. We are especially proud that Fort Lauderdale, Hollywood, Oakland Park and Wilton Manors have earned a perfect score on the Human Rights Campaign’s Municipal Equality Index.”

In an article in the Sun Sentinel, Stacy Ritter, president and CEO of Visit Lauderdale, pointed out that cancellations are economically harmful to South Florida, which is “not doing anything different than we’ve been doing for the last 30 years… We saw in 2020 what happens when visitors stay away — people lose their jobs.  By not coming here, the residents of our county, whose values align with these organizations, get hurt. Minority, women and LGBTQ+ businesses rely on visitors for their existence. Staying away hurts those very people.”

Destinations International Says Confront, Don’t Cancel

“Destinations International continues to oppose the use of travel boycotts or bans no matter how well intentioned. We believe that boycotts and bans are ineffective at creating political change and have been shown to hurt the tourism industry disproportionately,” said DI’s Chief of Advocacy Jack Johnson.

In a statement following the NAACP’s travel advisory announcement, he said, “Do not boycott a destination. Instead, show up, engage, and confront. Support your fellow humans. And effect change.”

To learn more about ways conference and convention organizers can engage and confront without causing collateral damage, visit DI’s Travel Bans and Boycotts page.

 

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