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Visitors to Arizona Mixed on Immigration Law


When Arizona lawmakers passed SB1070 – legislation designed to give the state tools to reduce illegal immigration – outcry, and threats by several cities to boycott Arizona, followed.


SB1070, also known as Support our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act, makes the failure to carry immigration documents a state crime and gives the police broad power to detain anyone suspected of being an illegal immigrant. When police have stopped someone for unlawful activity and they have 'reasonable suspicion' the person might be in the country illegally, they can ask for documentation.  SB1070 also addresses anyone who knowingly hires, transports or houses illegal aliens.

Those opposing the bill fear it will turn Arizona into a police state, taking away individual rights and opening the gateway for racial profiling. However, others argue immigration reform is long overdue, and the federal government has offered few solutions.

But what happens if the boycott threats turn into reality? With tourism as one of the state’s largest revenue generators and employing more than 200,000 people, the state and its delicate economy could be devastated by an actual boycott.

“The tourism industry was not part of the development of this [SB1070] legislation, but unfortunately, is certain to experience the unintended consequences of the economic backlash,” said Jennifer Wesselhoff, president and CEO of the Sedona Chamber of Commerce. “Arizona, and tourism especially, is currently in a very fragile state of recovery and the negative perceptions surrounding this legislation are tarnishing Arizona’s image and could easily have a devastating effect on our state.”

On a sunny Friday morning at the Flagstaff Visitor’s Center, there were no visible signs of a boycott. However, New Mexico residents Gustavo and Monica Gomez, who were in Flagstaff visiting a brother and nephew, said they would not willingly choose Arizona as their vacation destination. Gomez says what he believes will drive tourists, especially those with Mexican backgrounds such as himself, away from Arizona is the idea of possibly being questioned by local law enforcement in regards to their immigration status. To him, the thought of being examined and questioned on vacation just isn’t worth it.

“If I didn’t have extenuating circumstances in Arizona, I wouldn’t visit,” said Gomez. “If immigration laws are allowed to be regulated by each independent state, this would cause the statutory language to be different in each state and therefore cause inconsistent and unfair enforcement action,” he added.

According to Heather Ainardi, director of Flagstaff’s Convention and Visitors Bureau,the annual economic impact Flagstaff’s tourism industry has is approximately $501 million, in addition to sustaining and creating 5,483 direct and indirect jobs a year. As for Sedona, tourism is the city’s primary economic generator. A 2008 regional study of the Verde Valley estimated that the tourism industry created a total economic impact of $772 million and 12,130 indirect and direct jobs.

Both the Arizona Hotel and Lodging Association and the Sedona Chamber of Commerce say they have heard from tourists on both sides of the issue.

“So far, leisure travel has not been drastically impacted one way or the other,” said Wesselhoff. “We’ve had visitors to Sedona that have told us they are here because of the [SB1070] bill and we have also seen cancellations because of the bill.”Since state lawmakers passed the legislation, the state’s tourism industry has taken the biggest hit from fewer business travelers. Cancellations of more than 40 conventions and meetings state-wide created an estimated economic impact of $10-12 million.

“The challenge is not only do you have the hotels that are affected by these cancellations,” said Debbie Johnson, president and CEO of the Arizona Hotel and Lodging Association (AzHLA), “but when those visitors aren’t coming in for meetings or conventions, they’re not dining in our restaurants, they’re not shopping at our retail stores, they’re not visiting our museums and other attractions, so it’s really felt on a much wider scale.”

Another point of concern is for Arizona’s tourism industry over the long term.

“What we don’t know is the economic impact of the meetings that would currently be booking our state over the next several years, but are instead avoiding us due to the controversy,” said Wesselhoff.

The main message tourism advocates hope to communicate to those in other states is: “regardless of how you feel about this [SB1070] bill, the calls for a boycott don’t hurt the legislative leaders, they don’t hurt the elected officials,” said Johnson. “They hurt the 200,000 families that earn their paycheck in this [travel] industry and just like you and me, they need that paycheck to survive.” FBN

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