It’s been about three weeks since Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act ignited a media firestorm around the country. The measure, decried by many as permitting gay discrimination on religious grounds, has been patched with a hastily written amendment. But when it comes to the state’s travel and tourism industry, the damage—at least in a public relations sense—has already been done.
In the wake of travel boycotts, icy letters from corporations like the Gap, Levi’s and Apple, and outright divestitures such as Angie’s List’s cancellation of its planned $40 million expansion in Indianapolis, it’s clear that even a perceived anti-gay bias can do plenty of damage. On April 14, Indiana’s tourism agencies pooled $2 million and hired PR giant Porter Novelli, hoping to “remind the world that Hoosiers welcome everyone.”
While Indiana sifts through the ashes of its lost travel and tourism dollars, another part of the story’s been unfolding. Destinations across the country are sending the message that LGBT visitors are more than welcome, either by activating new campaigns or simply emphasizing the gay-inclusive marketing already in place. Whatever the method, one thing’s clear. “Many states have learned from what happened in Indiana,” said Mike McDowell, vp of cultural tourism at the Los Angeles Tourism and Convention Board, “and what not to do to attract tourism.”