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Florida Has a Billion-Dollar Problem if LGBT Travelers Stay Away?

Is the NAACP right to issue a travel advisory against Florida? Is the state unusually intolerant of gay people? The answer: No, no! DeSantis has done some stupid stuff, but the recent bill halting teaching sex education and trans issues for kids under 8 is prudent. Period.


There is only one group that DeSantis is depriving of their rights. Women! Promoting a ban on abortions after 6 weeks is ...I don't have the words. Maybe we should issue a travel advisory for women?


Florida Has a Billion-Dollar Problem if LGBT Travelers Stay Away

As Pride Month begins, local businesses are working harder to make skeptical out-of-state visitors feel welcome

By Allison Pohle and Jacob Passy, WSJ

June 1, 2023 9:00 pm ET


Many Florida cities host parades, festivals and performances in June in recognition of Pride Month, attracting out-of-state visitors and providing revenue during a slower tourist season.


Some Florida tourism businesses say they are worried about LGBT travelers who are thinking twice about visiting the Sunshine State.


Event organizers and business owners in Florida say recent legislation signed into law by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has made their LGBT customers wary of traveling there. One bill bans people from entering public bathrooms other than ones designated for their sex assigned at birth. Another bans children from what it calls “adult performances”—the state Senate cited drag shows as an example.


LGBT travel is a major source of tourism revenue in Florida. Visit Orlando estimates that LGBT visitors represent 6% of total domestic visitors to the Orlando area, totaling about four million visitors a year and more than $3.1 billion in direct visitor spending.


Beyond Orlando, many Florida cities host parades, festivals and performances in June in recognition of Pride Month, attracting out-of-state visitors and providing revenue during a slower tourist season.


Alexander’s Guesthouse, an upscale, adults-only property that caters to LGBT guests in Key West, has noted a significant drop in bookings, general manager Laura Smith says. In response, the inn distributed a message over email and social media in May that emphasized how the property and Key West remain havens.


“While yes, the struggle is real out in the world, we must also rest and replenish ourselves, too,” the message read in part. The guesthouse’s bookings rose after it posted the message.


Numerous groups have issued Florida travel advisories in recent weeks, including Equality Florida, an LGBT advocacy group, and the NAACP and League of United Latin American Citizens, which warned about hostility toward Black and Latino communities. The latest Equality Florida advisory, issued with the Human Rights Campaign, says the notice isn’t a “blanket recommendation against travel nor a call for boycott,” but meant to outline risks to LGBT people’s health and safety.


A spokesman for DeSantis said the state is experiencing record-setting tourism and described the recent travel advisories as “a stunt.”


Dana Young, chief executive of Visit Florida, the state’s tourism promotion body, said in a written statement that the advisories “are a disservice to the traveling public and are disrespectful to the incredibly diverse visitors and residents that are proud to call Florida home.”


Jaden Rivera, 40 years old, has gone to Orlando Gay Days events since he was a teenager. He now lives in the Midwest, and has returned for Pride events annually, including last year.


This year, Rivera won’t attend. He lost six friends in the Pulse nightclub shooting in 2016 and says he was alarmed by the recent legislation. Seeing photos online of a road sign that read “Kill All Gays” in a neighborhood in Orlando clinched his decision, he says. “It sent chills down my spine,” he says.


Orlando police said they are investigating the road-sign incident.


Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings said in May that some LGBT and minority groups have asked him questions about whether it is safe to do business in Florida. “What they ask me to do is reassure them that we are [an] open, kind, compassionate, loving community that wants their business,” said Demings, whose county includes Orlando.


Organizers in St. Cloud and Port St. Lucie canceled Pride-themed events this spring, citing the state’s legislation. The owners of Orlando’s Hamburger Mary’s restaurant filed a lawsuit in May alleging the recent legislation that would revoke the food and beverage licenses of businesses that admit children to “adult performances” is a violation of First Amendment free-speech rights. After the legislation passed and Hamburger Mary’s notified patrons that drag shows would be for those 18 and up, revenue took a hit, the restaurant’s lawyers say.


The coming Stonewall Pride event in Wilton Manors, near Fort Lauderdale, has instituted new guidelines for outfits and conduct for vendors, performers and people participating in its parade to comply with new state laws. Jeffrey Sterling, a local business owner and organizer of the event, says that the changes protect officials and businesses who could face legal exposure. The event is a major moneymaker, Sterling says, with Stonewall Pride drawing 50,000 attendees in 2022.


Byron Green-Calisch, a vice president of the board for St. Pete Pride, says the St. Petersburg organization has heard from more allies who are making a point to attend the 10 events planned over the course of the month. Rather than boycott, he says some travelers are putting their money toward queer businesses.


Paul Smith, 36, makes an annual pilgrimage to Key West for his birthday in May. This year he stayed at Alexander’s Guesthouse with his husband and two friends. Smith says they approached the trip with some caution, but found the vibe in Key West as welcoming as ever.


“The community of Key West has always prided itself on being a really inclusive, diverse and open-minded community, and there was never really any point where I felt that was different,” says Smith, who lives in Texas.


Smith says he has already booked his return trip for next year, noting that he feels a sense of responsibility to continue supporting businesses in the community.


At Walt Disney World, the state’s most well-known tourist destination, this weekend marks the annual Gay Days, where tens of thousands of visitors attend an unofficial gathering of LGBT parkgoers.


This weekend marks the annual Gay Days at Walt Disney World, as thousands of visitors attend an unofficial gathering of LGBT parkgoers. PHOTO: OCTAVIO JONES/REUTERS

Late last week, a number of restaurants scheduled to take part in a connected food and wine event withdrew over concerns for the safety of their employees, says Joseph Clark, chief executive of Gay Days, the company that puts on the events. Clark says he couldn’t recruit additional vendors, so they canceled the event and refunded attendees, pivoting to a free event instead.


Clark says a small number of travelers have canceled their weekend plans in recent weeks and organizers aren’t sure how many will show up, though they are committed to forging ahead.


“Not only are all of these laws happening, on top of that, it’s hurting our businesses, too,” says Clark, a Florida resident.


Sign up for the new WSJ Travel newsletter for more tips and insights from the Journal’s travel team.


Write to Allison Pohle at allison.pohle@wsj.com and Jacob Passy at jacob.passy@wsj.com

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