This week, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling in the case Arizona v. United States, declaring by a 5–3 majority that some sections of SB 1070 are preempted by federal law. SB 1070 was one of the toughest anti-illegal immigration acts in the country, and several of its provisions were declared illegal by the Court (including making it a state misdemeanor for an immigrant not to be carrying documentation of lawful presence in the country, and allowing state police to arrest without a warrant in some situations).
But notably, all justices agreed to uphold Section 2(B), the portion of the law allowing Arizona state police to investigate the immigration status of an individual stopped, detained, or arrested if there is “reasonable suspicion” that individual is in the country illegally. This section of the law may have a far-reaching impact on the state's tourism and events industries.
When the initial law was passed in 2010, Arizona saw an immediate impact on its business thanks to a tourism boycott that was only lifted last fall "at the request of community organizations, businesses and elected officials who were working to create a new environment in the state," according to Clarissa Martinez, director of immigration for the National Council of La Raza in a CNN interview.
In late 2010, a study by Marshall Fitz and Angela Kelley published on AmericanProgress.org claimed that the convention industry saw major groups and associations cancel events and conventions in the state. Arizona’s Hotel and Lodging Association publicly reported a combined loss of $15 million in lodging revenue due to meeting cancellations within four months of the bill’s passage. Analyzing average food and beverage, entertainment, in-town transportation, and retail sales brings the combined loss of estimated conference attendee spending up to $141 million.
By the next year, other states had similar bills at the polls, and several of them passed with similar consequences. In Alabama, Mercedes-Benz executive Detlev Hager was arrested on the streets of Tuscaloosa when he forgot his identification in his hotel room, according to Reuters.
Since the Arizona boycott was called off, Smith Travel Research has reported that the state’s occupancy rates have increased in the past year, according to the CNN report. Kiva Couchon, director of communications for the Arizona Office of Tourism, said that while the Office’s industry research is not finalized, “indicators are showing that 2011 leisure travel activity increased over 2010, which increased over 2009. The trend line is moving upwards.”
The Arizona Office of Tourism released a formal statement in regards to SB 1070, excerpted here: “The Supreme Court’s ruling regarding SB 1070 does not change how we promote Arizona. Each year, millions of visitors experience Arizona as a vibrant and diverse travel destination.”
Roger Rickard, California-based Chief Advocate of Revent, a company that teaches advocacy methods to industry groups and organizations, does not believe that the Supreme Court’s ruling will have an impact on Arizona’s meetings and events scene—if business professionals are proactive in promoting the value of the destination. Rickard worked in Arizona for 20 years and saw his business impacted by the boycott over the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday. “The biggest risk for Arizona—or any destination—is the perception issue,” he said. “Are you not going to be on lists for future business? If I were in Arizona, my advice would be to pay attention to the issue. Know what’s going on. Be vigilant of the value of the destination.” He also does not think business or local tourism boards should issue statements one way or another on the issue, but should be aware of any future legislations that may come down the road.