After the North Carolina General Assembly passed HB2 in March, the Chapel Hill Town Council, the Carrboro Board of Aldermen and the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce denounced the bill.
The visitors bureau and the area’s hospitality industry gathered the $1.2 million estimate by tracking canceled conferences, trainings and workshops in Chapel Hill and Carrboro. This results in hotel cancellations, which affect local restaurants and eliminate potential revenue from catering, florists, retail, transportation and special events business.
One example is the Public Management Research Association Conference, which was scheduled to be in Chapel Hill during June 2017. This conference alone represents an estimated $453,615 in lost revenue, according to the visitors bureau. Two others, the Maternal Child Healthcare Training and Foundation of Earth Science cancellations, total nearly $30,000 in lost revenue combined.
“(Hotels) keep a very steady look at who has left the hotels and why,” said Laurie Paolicelli, executive director of the visitors bureau.
“People will call and say ‘My association or conference has booked Chapel Hill and I won’t come,’” she said.
The people who refuse to come to local events are the largest cause of lost revenue, the visitors bureau said.
In March, the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce said in a statement they oppose any legislation that allows discrimination. Paolicelli said it’s important to tell the nation that the state’s decision does not dictate this area’s opinion of the bill, adding that the visitors bureau has spent $35,000 to advertise that all are welcome in Chapel Hill and surrounding areas.
This sentiment was mirrored by Meg McGurk, executive director of the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership.
“Our organization wants to make it clear that we value everyone,” she said. “We want the community, the nation, the state and businesses to know that we support being open and diverse.”
Local businesses are speaking out against the bill by displaying “Everyone is Welcome Here” signs in their windows, aligning themselves as businesses against HB2. The Town of Chapel Hill and the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce are also a part of a larger campaign called “All Are Welcome Here,” which began in Raleigh.
Kristen Smith, vice president for advocacy and engagement with the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce, said she hopes the nation understands everyone is invited to stay and shop in Chapel Hill and Carrboro.
“It’s important for a local business to have a way to say, as a business, ‘We welcome you here,’” she said.
Paolicelli said she hopes Chapel Hill’s history of being on the forefront of issues will indicate how the town is working for the LGBT community.
“Just because this is passed in the state doesn’t mean our community acts in any way unfriendly to all travelers,” she said.
“We will continue to be a college town that fights for freedom and social justice. We hope people remember that and visit.”