Wrightsville Beach hotelier says H.B. 2 hurting tourism, urges industry response

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As North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory went on national news shows including NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Fox’s “The Kelly File” and even the Charlotte studio of John Boy and Billy’ s syndicated radio show in defense of House Bill 2, members of the local travel industry said that the legislation was hurting business because of its impressions of discrimination and urged the state’s tourism coalition to take a stronger stand on the issue.

During an industry event Monday, Mary Baggett, owner of Wrightsville Beach’s Blockade Runner Beach Resort, said the state’s legislature needed to take immediate action to repeal the bill and that the N.C. State Tourism Coalition should be lobbying that message to the state’s General Assembly that is currently in session.

“We fought hard to become a destination state. Now it’s all undone,” Baggett said. “I hope your organization comes forth to rally us.”

The event at the Wilmington Convention Center was scheduled to recognize the industry’s “tourism week” and featured the executive director of the N.C. State Tourism & Travel Coalition, Kara Weishaar, who was questioned by Baggett and a few others at the event.

Weishaar told Baggett that the coalition was still collecting information from its members around the state, though she said they have heard others describe negative impacts from the bill’s perception.

“We’re hearing this across the state,” Weishaar said. “We’re trying to understand the true impact of the bill.”

HB 2, passed in March in a special session of the state legislature, is mostly known for its overturning of a Charlotte ordinance passed in February that would allow transgender people to use either a men’s or women’s bathroom, depending on the gender with which they identify, while at the same time enacting legislation restricting use of bathrooms, locker rooms and showers on all state properties including government buildings, schools, college campuses and highway rest stops to the biological gender on the user’s birth certificate.

The legislation also addressed other local authority issues including preventing cities from enacting minimum wages higher than the state’s.

The bill has sparked outcry and boycotts for its perceptions of discrimination against the gay, lesbian and transgender community.

Baggett described an email she received from a family from Massachusetts traveling through the region who had planned a stay at the Blockade Runner. The family will now be staying in the “more progressive state of South Carolina,” said Baggett, referencing the email cancelling the four-night booking, because they would “rather go to a state that’s not judgmental” of people’s lifestyles.

She was not the only hotelier to speak out. Patricia Falino, general manager of the Microtel Inn & Suites in Carolina Beach, also expressed frustration.

“Something has to be done now,” Falino said. “I can’t believe it’s been this long.”

Weishaar described a difficult political scenario where “both sides are dug in.”

“We are trying to navigate that,” she said. “We are talking about this daily.”

Nicolas Montoya, the Blockade Runner’s general manager and vice chairman of the New Hanover County Tourism Development Authority Board, said he understood the need for neutrality but that the timing for an industry response was critical.

“This is a moment for a gut check,” he said.

Kim Hufham, president and CEO of the TDA board, encouraged members of the tourism industry to send concerns to the local Convention and Visitors Bureau, to the state coalition and also to state political leaders.

She said the TDA would be traveling to Raleigh next week for a meeting with the state tourism coalition, where HB 2 concerns would be a primary topic.

One was in attendance on Monday, Republican Sen. Michael Lee, whose departure before the end of the event was announced at the start. Lee voted in favor of HB 2. Baggett said local politicians have been absent on the issue.

Noting that the travel industry employed more than 5,700 people locally and 200,000 across the state, Baggett said the industry can have an impact on the political process.

“We do have a voice,” she said.

email terrylane@luminanews.com

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