Several state governments banned state-sponsored travel to Mississippi after Gov. Phil Bryant signed the Religious Accommodation Act, and now Mississippi tourism and economic development groups are deciding how to respond to the law and if it will impact their industries.
"Mississippi welcomes all visitors to our great state," Visit Mississippi said in a statement. "The state is widely known for its cultural, recreational and entertainment offerings. Everyone is invited to come and experience Mississippi for themselves."
"The Mississippi Tourism Association recognizes that the intent of House Bill 1523 is to protect individuals and businesses from being forced to act against their own conscience. Our members statewide are reporting calls, emails and social media posts from people canceling or postponing trips to Mississippi due to national media reporting on this new law. Many of these tourists are known to our members personally because they are repeat guests, that have visited our state before, loved it, and have become regular visitors.
As the association that represents Mississippi’s 4th largest industry, we remain committed to the hospitality that welcomes all visitors and adds over $6 billion to our state’s economy each year. Our industry is made up of large and small businesses that employ over 115,000 Mississippians, each who cherish the individual freedoms that have made America great. But, with this freedom comes responsibility, and we believe that we must take the responsibility to reiterate the Mississippi Tourism Industry’s message of welcome that is the hallmark of our great state.
As the industry on the front line, cheerfully welcoming visitors to our home, we are re-doubling our efforts to demonstrate that Mississippi is indeed, the Hospitality State.
Tourism is important in every state.
In Mississippi it is VITAL.
And in our Mississippi, ALL are Welcome.”
The Mississippi Tourism Association's 2016 tourism guide features Mississippi native and openly gay broadcast journalist Robin Roberts on its cover.
Hattiesburg's Area Development Partnership's Executive Vice President Valencia Williamson said she doesn't t think the law will be a deterrent for businesses looking to locate in Hattiesburg.
"Absolutely not," she said. "Greater Hattiesburg is a great place to do business. We're open for business. We're certainly always out recruiting companies into the community. I say it all the time, Chad says it all the time in our team. ADP does a great job at this. We've got a great product here in Hattiesburg. We should be really proud of the community that we have. We have a very strong business community. It's steeped in healthcare, education, military. We couldn't ask for a better partnership with our public sector and our private sector, so we're certainly glad to do business here in Hattiesburg and welcome any new companies."
On Friday however, executives from 10 major companies, including GE, The Coca-Cola Company, Choice Hotels International, Inc.and PepsiCo, partnered with the Human Rights Campaign to send a letter to Gov. Bryant, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and house Speaker Phillip Gunn asking them to repeal the law.
Dear Governor Bryant, Lieutenant Governor Reeves & Speaker Gunn:
We write with concerns about legislation signed this week, HB 1523, which would allow individuals, religious organizations and private associations to use religion to discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Mississippians in some of the most important aspects of their lives, including at work, at schools, in their family life and more. Put simply, HB 1523 is not a bill that reflects the values of our companies.
We are disappointed to see the legislature and governor’s office pass discriminatory legislation. The business community, by and large, has consistently communicated to lawmakers at every level that such laws are bad for our employees and bad for business. This is not a direction in which states move when they are seeking to provide successful, thriving hubs for business and economic development. We believe that HB 1523 will make it far more challenging for businesses across the state to recruit and retain the nation’s best and brightest workers and attract the most talented students from across the country. It will also diminish the state’s draw as a destination for tourism, new businesses, and economic activity.
Discrimination is wrong, and we believe it has no place in Mississippi or anywhere in our country. As companies that pride ourselves on being inclusive and welcoming to all, we strongly urge you to repeal this bill.
Wes Bush, Chairman, CEO and President of Northrop Grumman
Chip Bergh, President and Chief Executive Officer, Levi Strauss & Co.
Alex Dimitrief, Senior Vice President & General Counsel, GE
Sandy Douglas, Executive Vice President & President, Coca-Cola North America, The Coca-Cola Company
Steve Joyce, President and Chief Executive Officer, Choice Hotels International, Inc
Brian Krzanich, CEO, Intel
Andrew N. Liveris, CEO and Chairman of the Board, The Dow Chemical Company
Bob Page, Chairman & CEO, Replacements, Ltd.
Walter Robb, Co-CEO, Whole Foods Market
Christopher J. Swift, Chairman and CEO, The Hartford
Brian Tippens, Vice President, Chief Diversity Officer, Hewlett Packard Enterprise
Robb Webb, Chief Human Resources Officer, Hyatt Hotels Corporation
Tony West, EVP Government Affairs, General Counsel & Corporate Secretary, PepsiCo