VERIFY: Have big city convention centers already lost $66M from 'bathroom bill'?

Texas takes in hundreds of millions of dollars in convention business every year. Last week, Texas Competes, a coalition of businesses and pro-business organizations, told state lawmakers Texas has lost $66 million in convention business already. So KVUE

AUSTIN - Texas takes in hundreds of millions of dollars in convention business every year.

Last week, Texas Competes, a coalition of businesses and pro-business organizations, told state lawmakers Texas has lost $66 million in convention business already, based on these numbers. So KVUE wanted to verify that.

KVUE reached out to the convention and visitors bureaus for the bigger Texas cities: Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, San Antonio and Austin. We heard back from all but San Antonio.

Texas Competes claims Dallas alone has lost $40 million in canceled conventions.

So we asked John Johnson, the assistant director for the City of Dallas Convention and Event Services. He gave the following statement:

“Fortunately, we’ve received no cancelations, to date, due to the proposed bathroom bill; however, clients have expressed their fervent disapproval of the bill and further debate on the issue. Additionally, a number of clients have indicated that should such legislation be passed, they will cancel their Texas event(s), and/or relocate outside of Texas for future events.”

Visit Dallas handles convention interest, sporting events and organizational meetings that are looking to come to the city beyond 18 months out. There are varying degrees of commitment in this industry. Some involves verbal agreements, others have written letters of agreement and then as it gets closer there are signed contracts and penalties if events cancel. Visit Dallas said it has received inquiries from businesses that were in various stages of agreement to come to the city. One bigger convention was looking to come to Dallas in 2026, and according to Visit Dallas, has decided to forego those future plans in Dallas or any other Texas city because of the bathroom bill legislation.

Of the other big Texas cities, Austin is the only convention center that has lost a contracted booked event. Open Stack, an Austin-based non-profit which manages a large open source software project, moved its annual meeting to Denver. That event is said to have an economic impact totaling $9,289,800.

It had held one meeting in Austin in April 2016. Lauren Sell of Open Stack said in a written statement, "We had such a successful event last year and were looking forward to bringing our business back to our hometown, but we will not be able to do that until the bathroom bill is off the table."

The Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau breaks down the losses this way:

-Already lost due to potential legislation: $9,539,910
-May cancel if passed: $68,080,075
-Definitely cancelling if passed: $18,692,325

Fort Worth said it stands to lose $40 million in convention business.

Visit Dallas says it stands to lose more than $1 billion dollars if the bathroom bill passes.

Because we don’t yet know whether a bathroom bill will pass, it's tough to put an actual dollar figure on the potential future losses.

So we can verify major cities have lost convention business, but only to the tune of about $10 million so far.

Here's a statement Texas Competes sent to KVUE:

We compiled the data based on input from Convention & Visitors Bureaus around the state. They listed out individual conferences & meetings that have either already cancelled, said they will cancel, or said they might cancel if a bathroom bill passes. CVBs use an industry "event impact calculator" to take event costs, duration, and visitor numbers and turn them into a "direct economic impact" figure of the convention or meeting coming to town.

Many of the convention & meeting groups in question asked the respective CVBs not to name them by name at this time, so while the data is real, it is anonymized in many cases. We've tracked all of it on the first tab of this viewable online spreadsheet: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/u/1/d/12qH1BpJkpAj1c2jG4E7Z_t5SR9LTWIuZlpUxtTxWRLc/edit#gid=0

What CVBs tell me is that they only know about cancellations when the meeting organizer tells them they're cancelling or considering cancelling. Convention centers might have different data because, as I understand it, sometimes groups put placeholders on dates - sometimes directly, sometimes through a booker - and that is not always communicated to the CVB.

It's not just convention business that could be hurt. The NCAA is slated to hold its 2018 Final Four championship in San Antonio.

It relocated seven championship games scheduled last year from North Carolina to other states after the board there required host cities to "demonstrate how they will provide an environment that is safe, healthy and free of discrimination."

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© 2017 KVUE-TV


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