Tourism group says "bathroom bill" has already cost SA millions

Visit San Antonio: Groups abandoning SA as convention destination over bill

By Garrett Brnger - Reporter

SAN ANTONIO - The state motto may be "friendship," but a proposed "bathroom bill" is keeping some convention planners from feeling the love. Visit San Antonio, the public-private nonprofit that promotes tourism for San Antonio, said the controversial bill has already caused some groups to pull away from the city for their conventions.

Other groups are ready to cancel if the bill is passed into law, Visit San Antonio said.

"It makes the people who will attend their meetings feel unwelcome in the state of Texas," said Ashley Harris, director of industry and government relations.

The bill, officially known as Senate Bill 6, would require people to use the bathroom in public schools and government buildings based on the sex on their birth certificates. It would also prohibit any local ordinances that require transgender people be allowed to use the bathroom of their choice.

As it is written, the bill exempts groups renting out public buildings, such the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center, from the law. However, Harris said the nonprofit’s partners still see it as a sign that Texas is not welcoming.

Conventions are a big draw for San Antonio. Events at Henry B. Gonzalez help bring in an estimated $18 to $20 million in hotel occupancy tax revenue every year, according to a city of San Antonio spokeswoman. A quarter of all hotel room reservations are related to activity at the convention center.

The fact that the bill was even filed caused three groups that had been targeting the city for their conventions, but hadn't yet signed anything formal, to pull San Antonio as an option, according to Visit San Antonio. The organization estimates that cost the city about $3.1 million in lost in economic impact.

Additionally, eight groups that are locked in to hold conventions in San Antonio have said they will cancel if the bill becomes law, according to Visit San Antonio, taking about another $19.9 million in economic impact with them.

A Visit San Antonio spokesman said the group considered money that would be spent on things like hotels, food and entertainment in its economic impact calculation.

Harris said the conventions in question varied in size between small, medium and large.

"A large convention can bring 10 to 20,000 rooms to San Antonio," she said. "And that is a very huge economic impact.

Visit San Antonio is trying to have its own impact fighting SB 6 in Austin.

"San Antonio has always been a welcome and diverse environment, and we oppose any legislation that does not accurately reflect that," Harris said.

The Texas State Senate will hold the first public hearing on SB 6 on March 7.

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