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Recent controversial laws in Florida interfere with the state's tourism industry

SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

Florida's warm weather and ocean breezes attract tens of millions of tourists each year. But for some business visitors, the Sunshine State's politics are casting a little too much shade. From member station WLRN, Tom Hudson reports.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: You couldn't have picked a more perfect venue in terms of sort of setting the tone for the whole weekend.

TOM HUDSON, BYLINE: This is a woman speaking on a promotional video about last year's Beauty and the Beach Girlfriends' Weekend conference held at a South Florida beachfront resort. It was organized by a Georgia-based nonprofit.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: It was just a perfect place to be for relaxation and for fellowship.

HUDSON: But this group is not coming back to Florida this year. It's one of a handful of conferences, conventions and trade shows that have decided not to bring their business to South Florida, blaming recent laws passed in the state.

STACY RITTER: Tourism has always transcended politics.

HUDSON: Stacy Ritter is the CEO of Visit Lauderdale, the tourism marketing agency for Broward County. She says the area has lost $20 million over the next three years from events choosing not to come to Florida. Some groups point to public education policies. Others mention travel advisories issued by LGBTQ, immigration and Black and Hispanic civil rights organizations.

RITTER: We don't talk politics in travel. We just want people to have great experiences and bring home wonderful memories. So this is a new conversation for us, and it's an uncomfortable one.

HUDSON: Ritter's office maintains a spreadsheet of lost business when a prospective client decides against coming to Florida because of new laws.

RITTER: They are opposed to the state policies, whether it's the Don't Say Gay bill or the abortion restrictions or book banning or - the list goes on.

HUDSON: So far, the lost sales are a drop in the bucket of the state's $100 billion-plus travel business. Yet it has the attention of some in the industry. Peter Ricci is the director of the Hospitality and Tourism Management program at Florida Atlantic University.

PETER RICCI: If you're considering a convention and you have a thousand attendees and you hear some noise among a group in the attendees, you'll just say, hey, let's not touch Florida for now.

HUDSON: One of the latest groups to steer clear of gathering in Florida is Alpha Phi Alpha, the oldest African American fraternity. Its 2025 convention had been scheduled to be in Orlando. The decision to move the event out of Florida came after the state approved new African American history standards, including the controversial middle school benchmark that reads, quote, "Instruction includes how slaves developed skills which in some instances could be applied for their personal benefit." Politics presents the latest challenge to the tourism industry here after two booming years when the state was open, while many other places weren't. Travelers have Florida fatigue, and the hotel industry has seen a slowdown, says Ritter.

RITTER: We're not seeing the demand or the trend that we had hoped we would be seeing, and we believe that it is in part due to things that are happening at the state level.

HUDSON: That's the case for the small Beauty and the Beach Girlfriends' Weekend, despite attendees gushing about last year's getaway.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: It was really good. Like, next year I'm bringing, like, 15 back.

HUDSON: This year, if she brings those extra 15 people with her to the weekend, they may be going to South Carolina instead of Florida.

For NPR News, I'm Tom Hudson in Miami.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Tom Hudson
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