In recent weeks, controversies have erupted over new laws in North Carolina and Mississippi. Whether you’ve read coverage in News Junkie of convention cancellations in the Tar Heel State or seen headlines of some states banning travel to the Magnolia State, it’s clear that two pieces of legislation are having a serious impact on many of our colleagues in the Southeast. I’m not writing to debate the legal fine print of North Carolina’s HB2 or Mississippi’s HB 1523. I didn’t attend law school, and I don’t consider myself qualified to offer an expert legal opinion on the situation.
I am, however, more than ready to offer my perspective as a veteran of the convention industry. At PCMA, our members bring together attendees in destinations around the world everyday. Those attendees come together to learn from each other, to hear each other’s perspectives and to uncover new ideas. With that in mind, it’s clear that the success of our industry relies on one key component: diversity. The new ideas that emerge from our breakout sessions and educational panels do not come from putting thousands of similar people with similar opinions in the same room. New ideas are born when people from different backgrounds with different skin colors who love all kinds of people come together. This represents the real spirit of the meetings industry; our experiences are built on including everyone.
Our colleagues in North Carolina and Mississippi embraced that spirit of inclusiveness long before this legislation passed. Now, they’re desperately working to repair the reputations of their destinations. Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority CEO Tom Murray has urged state and local leaders to find a resolution that ensures outsiders understand that the Queen City embraces diversity. Mike Cashion, the Executive Director of the Mississippi Hospitality & Restaurant Association, recently announced a new “Everyone’s Welcome Here” campaign to help the association’s members spread the word that Mississippi does not believe in discrimination. Other travel and tourism leaders in both states are issuing statements that voice concern over the potential for discrimination and requesting lawmakers to fix the situations.
Still, it’s no secret that their efforts will face uphill battles. Governors of the respective states aren’t showing signs of repealing the laws, and some big names are calling more attention to the issues. Bruce Springsteen cancelled a performance in Greensboro, North Carolina, and Bryan Adams cancelled his show in Biloxi, Mississippi.
Canceling is not the only option, though. If you have an upcoming meeting or event in one of these states, I urge you to keep your scheduled business. Support your CVB partners who have worked so hard to make cities like Charlotte, Greensboro, Jackson and Biloxi places where attendees can come together to learn, network and make a positive impact on the world. These colleagues weren’t part of the legislative process; they need your help now more than ever. And remember that the collective voice of the convention industry really counts. After all, our industry makes a massive contribution to the economic well-being of every state in the country. So when you are in one of these states, make sure your voice is heard. Tell legislators that there is no room for discrimination.
See PCMA's letter to the governors here.