‘Bathroom bill’ could cost Austin tourism $109 million

Screen grab from 2017 Austin Chamber of Commerce video "Austin, TX | You'll fit right in"

AUSTIN (KXAN) – For the first time, Austin’s Convention and Visitors Bureau is predicting the economic impact of Texas lawmakers’ proposed “bathroom bill.”

Senate Bill 6 would require people to use public facilities associated with their birth sex — effectively banning transgender people from using ones they identify with. It’s become a politically charged issue, with a range of individuals and groups taking sides.

Friday, KXAN obtained the latest estimates from the CVB showing 22 groups have expressed concern about the bill. If all were to cancel their convention bookings, the impact would be severe.

Austin would lose an estimated 145,890 total hotel room nights and a total estimated economic impact of $109,683,377 between now and 2021. That equates to 4-5 groups a year. The Austin Convention Center hosts an average 60 big groups annually, a spokesperson told KXAN.

“The Austin Convention & Visitors Bureau considers every visitor a guest, and as members of the hospitality industry, all guests are welcome,” President and CEO Tom Noonan said Friday via email.

“We are particularly concerned about the impact such legislation would have on Austinites who work in the hospitality and related industries,” Noonan continued. “Every canceled convention means lost shifts for servers, bartenders and housekeepers; lost revenue for local bars, restaurants, and retail; and lost business for musicians, florists, and event production companies.”

The Austin Chamber of Commerce agrees. Policy and Advocacy Vice President Drew Scheberle told KXAN Friday, “We’ll find out as the session progresses how much that’s weighing into [lawmakers’] opinion,” adding it’s safe to assume the Comptroller’s Office will add a fiscal impact note onto the bill as it moves its way through the legislature. Friday, no committee meetings were set for SB 6, according to the legislature’s website.

The Convention Center would not provide a list of the 22 groups, citing confidentiality concerns. However, a break down in types of groups who come to Austin include:

  • 41% national associations
  • 29% corporate
  • 13% sports
  • 17% misc., including state associations, and religious, fraternal, government and social groups

The groups expressing concerns about a possible bathroom bill represent a wide range of interests, including: a major technology conference, religious groups and several major medical, professional and scientific associations, the CVB found.

Austin’s mayor weighed in on the discussion early Friday on KXAN News Today. Anchor Sally Hernandez asked: “Are we going to lose out on millions of dollars?
Adler: “That’s what the Convention Center people are telling us. That’s what businesses are saying around the state.”

Later Friday, Mayor Adler was more politically adroit in an after lunch news conference with mayors from such cities as Dallas, Frisco, San Marcos, Manor, Galveston and San Antonio.

“To the degree that we would be passing legislation that would limit our ability to take advantage of the attributes that we have in this state is something that is harmful,” adding he sided with Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings that the bathroom bill talk was “taking much of the oxygen out of the room” for other conversations such as reform to education finance, a topic which affects all Texans.

Adler did say he welcomed the robust conversation around SB 6 because “it’s bringing to light all of the business ramifications that such a bill would have.”

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