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Many U.S. travelers don't want to be labeled as racists or bigots, and publicly oppose discriminatory legislation. But that doesn't mean they won't take a trip they've been planning all year, especially if the legislation doesn't involve them.

U.S. travelers generally don’t support controversial bathroom or other discriminatory bills that have sprung up in states like North Carolina and Texas but many travelers will still visit impacted states even if harmful legislation is in effect.

That’s according to an online survey from Destinations International (formerly Destinations Marketing Association International) which surveyed more than 1,000 U.S. travelers in May 2017 for their thoughts on how laws that discriminates against certain groups such as LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) or various racial communities, for example, impacts their decision to travel to these states.

Respondents were ages 21 and older and had traveled outside their home state at least once during the past year or planned to do so in the coming 12 months. The survey asked travelers to consider legislation in North Carolina, Arizona, Indiana, Tennessee and Mississippi that have played out over the past decade.

As the United States becomes increasingly polarized along the political spectrum and certain social issues gain more national attention, Destinations International asked travelers how calls for travel boycotts, or efforts that encourage travelers to avoid travel to a state, impact their decision to travel, and found the results were mixed. Some 39 percent of respondents said they support travel boycotts, 40 percent oppose them, and 22 percent said they have no opinion.

Some 57 percent of respondents said they were familiar with at least one of the proposed boycotts and pieces of legislation. But, despite headlines and media attention these bills tend to receive, that means a considerable swath of U.S travelers haven’t heard of these issues.

Still, survey data show the net negative impact from awareness of these controversial bills is about 23 percent (see chart below) as one-third of respondents said they’re less likely to travel and only one in ten say they’re more likely to visit a bathroom bill state.

The largest percentage (45 percent) said these bills have no impact on their intent to travel. “Most targeted states are viewed either more or just as favorable travel destinations than their neighbors who have not been subjected to boycotts,” the survey states.

Impact of Travel Intent to 5 States if Travel Boycotts Were Encouraged 

Intent % Intent
Less likely 33%
No impact 45%
More likely 10%
Don’t know 12%

Source: Destinations International

The survey also asked respondents for their political party association and 58 percent of Democrats support travel boycotts. And 60 percent of Democrat respondents said travel boycotts are effective at compelling state action.

Republicans respondents, however, typically opposed boycotts (57 percent) and don’t believe they’re effective (58 percent).

“There are differences across party lines, but it is mostly Republicans having more favorable impressions of Southern states, regardless of whether the state has been targeted or not,” the survey states.

Some tourism boards in states with enacted or pending discriminatory legislation, such as Visit Dallas, have confronted the issue head-on to oppose the bills and reassure travelers of their safety.

But activist organizations are more influential with travelers than tourism boards in these situations, survey data show. About one in four Democrat respondents said they’d turn to tourism boards for information versus one in two who’d seek guidance from progressive activist organizations, and one in three who’d listen to the Department of Justice’s position.

Tourism boards, however, are the top information source for Republicans in these situations with one in three respondents saying they’d go to a tourism board first before other sources.

The Human Rights Campaign, one of the largest U.S.-based LGBTQ civil rights organizations, is an example of an influential organization with strong support among Democrats and millennial respondents (48 percent of Democrats and 42 percent of millennials say the organization would make them consider boycotting travel to a state.) Even among millennial Republicans, the Human Rights Campaign is the most influential organization tested (33%).

Many U.S. travelers also understand that boycotting a state means potentially hurting travel industry employees – nearly 75 percent of respondents said a travel boycott hurts the hospitality industry and its employees in that state.

While the travel industry might take a hit, states such as North Carolina are still seeing economic growth across other industries. “For example, North Carolina lost a considerable amount of potential economic output when the NCAA decided to move its championship games,” the survey states. “However, the economy continues to grow and other companies have continued to expand operations within the state.”

These findings don’t spell worst-case scenario for current or future impacted destinations. But the data also indicate that tourism boards, while valued for their guidance in these situations, must create effective strategies to develop more trust among travelers when negative press disseminates across the country.

Trusted Information Sources When Considering Travel Boycotts to Bathroom Bill States 

Source % trust
Progressive activist organizations 31%
State tourism board 30%
U.S. Department of Justice 30%
State chamber of commerce 27%
Hospitality industry 20%
Governor and state legislature 20%
Conservative activist organizations 18%
Businesses in the state 16%
Sports organizations 12%
Celebrities/entertainers 11%
Friends and family 1%
News outlets 1%
None of the above 19%

Source: Destinations International


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Tags: civil rights, destinations international, DMAI, tourism

Photo credit: North Carolina's Bathroom Bill has cost the state thousands of projects and jobs. Pictured is a sign outside a restroom at 21c Museum Hotel in Durham, North Carolina in May 2016. Gerry Broome / Associated Press

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