The last few years have been busy for Phillip Jones, president and CEO of VisitDallas. In January 2017, Jones, along with fellow tourism and business leaders across the state, stood on the steps of the Texas state capitol building in Austin to voice his opposition to Senate Bill 6, or the “Texas Privacy Act” –– also known as the “bathroom bill.”
The legislation would have required a person to use a restroom, locker room, or similar facility based on the gender stated on their birth certificate and make it a crime for transgender people to use facilities for the gender with which they identify. Needless to say, such legislation would discriminate against not only Texas citizens, but visitors to the state, and could severely damage the state’s economy and brand.
When North Carolina passed its own bathroom bill, House Bill 2, in March 2016, high-profile events and conventions –– including that year’s NBA All-Star game –– were quickly cancelled in protest. Despite the fact that portions of the bill were repealed a year later, the state lost out on $3.7 billion in direct spending in only 12 months, according to The Associated Press.
Jones sat down with Greg Oates, SkiftX’s editor-at-large, at Skift Global Forum 2018 to discuss how VisitDallas banded together with other travel and business stakeholders to build the Texas Welcomes All coalition and fight against discriminatory legislation that hurts the Texas economy.
As Jones explained, at first, he and the team at VisitDallas stood alone in the fight. But little by little, momentum started to build. Leaders from other convention and visitor bureaus, including those from cities such as Austin, Arlington, Dallas, El Paso, Fort Worth, Houston, Irving, San Antonio, and the Texas Association of Convention and Visitor Bureaus, as well as leaders of major businesses and corporations across the state, soon joined the fight.
They saw the devastating impact of such legislation in North Carolina and knew that similar damage to Texas would be unavoidable. “One in 10 meetings or conventions in the U.S. is held in Texas annually. In Dallas alone, 45 groups were threatening to cancel their scheduled events if such legislation passed,” Jones explained.
Fortunately, the bathroom bill was defeated in the Texas legislature in August 2017 –– but it wasn’t easy, and the fight is far from over. The threat of the bathroom bill, along with other religious refusal bills, which allow individuals and organizations to call on their religious belief to refuse to serve, sell to, or work with another person or group of persons, is an ongoing battle as such legislation appears in the state’s courts year after year.
Jones has learned a lot throughout the process. “We can’t just assume that other people are going to step up. … We have to stay engaged. We have to educate legislators and candidates and raise money to support candidates who agree with us on these issues.”
Jones also warned that if such legislation were to pass in Texas, it could open up the floodgates for other states to pass similar bills. He encouraged leaders of other destination organizations to prepare themselves, should they find themselves in a similar position. He advised that destination organizations start building coalitions with other stakeholders now. That way, those relationships are already established, should they be necessary.
Fortunately, the meetings and events industry has started to bring this conversation to the forefront. Jones spoke on the topic at the Professional Convention Management Association’s (PCMA) Convening Leaders event in Nashville this past year. And after seeing Jones speak at this year’s Skift Global Forum, Don Welsh, president and CEO of Destinations International was inspired to invite him to continue the conversation at the organization’s 2018 Advocacy Summit which recently took place in Philadelphia.
Jones understands the value in getting as many stakeholders involved as possible to speak up against legislation that discriminates against others: “Collectively we have a much more powerful voice –– and that makes a real difference.”