Group Worries Bathroom Bill Will Severely Damage Arkansas Tourism

Feb 15, 2017

File photo of Little Rock Convention & Visitors Bureau President and CEO Gretchen Hall in September 2015.
Credit Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

A proposed bathroom bill filed in the Arkansas Legislature targeting transgender people is raising the concern of the Little Rock Convention & Visitors Bureau.

SB346 doesn’t offer any specifics at this point and is essentially a shell bill, but Republican Senator Gary Stubblefield told the Associated Press it would require people to use public bathrooms that correspond to the sex on their birth certificate.

Gretchen Hall, president and CEO of the LRCVB, is worried it would be detrimental to Arkansas the way similar legislation has affected North Carolina and Texas.

"We have followed some of the impacts in those two states to the tourism industry and the impacts are quite substantial and we’re very concerned about that backlash happening here in Arkansas as well," Hall said.

She points to research showing North Carolina has suffered a $400 million loss in business since a similar law was passed with companies cancelling expansion plans or deciding not to locate there, resulting in jobs not being created. The state also lost out on major sports events with the NCAA Final Four and NBA All-Star Game being moved out of the state.

"Little Rock and North Little Rock hosted two very prestigious NCAA events in recent years," Hall said. "Those had a tremendous economic impact here at home and those events have said publicly that they will not come to destinations that implement similar laws."

Sen. Gary Stubblefield

The Texas Association of Business recently said legislation there could cost the state an economic loss of $8.5 billion and up to 185,000 jobs. Backers of that proposal dismissed the report, suggesting it was propaganda of the political left.

But Hall is concerned the bill could be detrimental to a key sector of the state’s economy.

"Tourism is Arkansas’s second-largest economic industry, a total impact of $7.2 billion per year, and I think people really need to take a hard look at the economic trickle effect that a bill like that could potentially have that would really damage our state’s economy."

Hall says she’s reaching out to share her concerns with members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which would take up the bill. She and others may testify at a hearing, though it’s not known yet when the bill will get consideration.

The Republicans backing the bill, Senator Stubblefield of Branch and Senator Greg Standridge of Russellville, did not immediately return calls and emails Wednesday afternoon seeking comment for this report.

Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson has said he doesn't see the need for the bathroom bill, and a spokesman said Tuesday that position hasn't changed.

Material from the Associated Press contributed to this report.