Outrage over local censure votes may be a misunderstanding
San Diego tourism leaders and hoteliers fear they could lose a sizable chunk of business this summer from valued “Zonies” who are so angered by elected leaders’ recent censure of Arizona for its illegal-immigration law that they’re mounting an informal boycott of their own.
The San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau and several hotels report receiving e-mails and letters from Arizona visitors saying they intend to change their plans to travel here in light of local outcry over their home state’s anti-illegal-immigration stance.
Tourism officials are striking back. In an open letter, they urge Arizona residents to overlook local politics and come to San Diego just as they always have for its mild climate, beaches and attractions. The visitors bureau, in conjunction with the San Diego County Hotel-Motel Association, plans to circulate the letter to media outlets and in advertising this weekend in The Arizona Republic.
The bureau says it has received about 25 to 30 e-mails from Arizona residents reacting to resolutions passed last month by the San Diego City Council and school board, which were little more than symbolic protests aimed at the neighboring state’s lawmakers.
Still struggling from the prolonged economic downturn, San Diego’s visitor industry can ill afford to lose any of the 2 million Arizonans it counts on annually, said ConVis President Joe Terzi.
“We’re in a very tough environment already because of everything else going on, and we don’t need another negative impact to our industry,” Terzi said. “This affects all the hardworking men and women who count on tourism for their livelihoods, so we’re saying, don’t do something that hurts their livelihoods.”
Although the summer months typically are an economic bonanza for the San Diego visitor industry, the recession and continued high unemployment have eaten away at lodging revenue as hotels have steeply discounted rates to fill their rooms. The Convention & Visitors Bureau spent $9 million last year promoting the region for the spring and summer months and is dedicating $7 million toward that effort this year.
“I’ve been approached by a number of hotels who are very concerned because they’ve received cancellations from Arizona guests,” said Namara Mercer, executive director of the county Hotel-Motel Association. “It’s a huge piece of business for not just the hotels but for all of San Diego. Everybody’s excited because they think occupancies will be stronger this summer, and now this.”
In some cases, it appears that Arizona residents misconstrued the votes taken by San Diego’s elected leaders as calls for an actual boycott of Arizona as opposed to statements of opposition.
In one letter received by the Sofia Hotel in downtown San Diego, a “boycott” was cited as the reason for canceling a planned trip to the city.
“Nothing against the Sofia; however, wanted to let you know that we were planning on coming out in August and staying for 10-14 nights,” read the letter. “Since San Diego decided to boycott AZ, we decided to do our part and vacation elsewhere. Really sorry since we truly like staying at your place and will miss it.”
In many of the e-mails to the visitors bureau, Arizonans bluntly expressed their displeasure with San Diego’s stance on the illegal-immigration law and said that staying away was the best way of registering their protest.
“So you see when people in government start to boycott it goes both ways,” said one e-mail. “You just lost our visits to our favorite places in your city and the $3,500 we had in our budget to spend there.”
In a draft letter yet to be approved by visitors bureau and hotel association leaders, Terzi sought to clarify the city’s position on the immigration law while stressing the respect the region has for Arizona’s visitors.
“While immigration is a complex and sensitive issue for our nation, we believe it needs to be addressed independent of actions that would harm our economies and hardworking residents,” states the letter. It implores prospective visitors to “look past the political posturing and make your travel decision for all the right reasons.”
Charles Holladay, manager of the Ramada Plaza in Mission Valley, noted that as much as 50 percent of his summer business originates in Arizona, and he already has received a cancellation from a regular customer.
“I understand the City Council was being passionate about their politics, but I don’t think they thought it through,” Holladay said. “If it negatively impacts hotel revenue, it impacts the transient occupancy tax, and that goes right into the general fund, so they’ll have less money for their programs.”
San Diego Councilwoman Donna Frye said she believes some Arizona residents are acting out of a misunderstanding.
“The City Council did not pass a resolution boycotting Arizona, and I would hope that the good citizens of Arizona understand that and will continue to visit San Diego,” Frye said.
School board President Shelia Jackson said that while she was disappointed to hear of people opting to stay away from San Diego, she doesn’t regret her vote.
“It’s sad that people would cancel their plans to come here in reaction to that, but I still think we did the right thing,” Jackson said. “Certainly, we know how important tourism is to San Diego, and it wasn’t my intent to impact the tourism trade.”