In the wake of Arizona's controversial immigration legislation, the state plans to launch an integrated communications campaign to counter the negative effect the law has had on Arizona's tourism industry.
The law has reportedly hit hard the state's multibillion dollar leisure and business tourism industry, which has faced its own challenges relating to the economy and negative attention on business travel in the last year.Geoff Freeman, SVP of public affairs for the US Travel Association, says: “What Arizona is confronting, in some respects, isn't that dissimilar to what we see when we deal with the oil spill in the Gulf Coast or swine flu. This is a perception-driven business and, unlike most products, perception is far more important than reality.”
Major challenges facing the national tourism industry in recent years have including the recession, political focus on private jets and business travel, the H1N1 virus, and natural disasters.
In Arizona, the state must counter negative perceptions that have been in place since April, when legislation was passed that allows police to ask an individual about their immigration status if there is “reasonable suspicion” that he or she is an illegal immigrant.
Since then, organizations have staged protests, launched a national boycott, and issued travel bans. And, just this week, the Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against the state.
The economic impact of the law was immediate, with organizations including the Department of Education and Immigration Lawyers Association canceling conventions scheduled for Arizona cities.
Mark Stanton, deputy director for the Arizona Office of Tourism, says: “The tourism industry is so vital as an economic engine in the state of Arizona"
A state task force released short-term recommendations to deal with the issue on June 30."
The goal, according to the task force, is to “change the tone of the dialogue to reflect the true implications and tangible effects boycotts have on the lives and families of the most vulnerable tourism employees.”
The recommendations include hiring a communications firm as well as the creation of a public-private sector effort to lead and fund the campaign, something Stanton says is unprecedented compared to previous tourism campaigns in Arizona. The state is working on an RFQ with a budget of around $250,000, with plans to put an agency in place within the month and launch a campaign by late August.
The task force also determined that the campaign should be developed to clarify the facts about the law and its relationship to tourism, as it believes the Arizona brand as a leisure and business tourism destination is still strong, says Stanton.
“This new immigration law doesn't change those facts,” he adds. “The brand's tourism dimensions are still there.”
Freeman notes that, while the issue in Arizona is unique, one effective way for the tourism industry to address perception issues is by providing facts to travelers.
“There's no way any of us can compete with the hundreds of millions of dollars of nonstop media coverage,” he says. “It forces you to be more clever. It forces you to think about alternative ways to get your message out there."