Six (6) Cancelled Conventions: Broward County Pays the Price of Florida Political Tensions

  • by:
  • Source: Wayne Dupree
  • 07/08/2023
More than six conventions that were scheduled to take place in Broward County have been cancelled because of the bitter political climate, according to their organizers. The Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau, now known as Visit Lauderdale, put together the list. According to Broward's tourism department, the cancelled conventions could have generated revenue for local restaurants and attractions as well as hotel stays in Fort Lauderdale and its neighboring cities.

The Supreme Council of America Inc., Ancient & Accepted Scottish Rite Masons decided to cancel their convention — and 855 rooms — in August 2024, according to a Visit Lauderdale spreadsheet listing the decision.

The notes on the entry for the 2024 National Family and Community Engagement and Community Schools Conference, which needed more than 2,000 rooms and has bailed, read, "We were so close on this one," However, the group made the decision to leave Florida because they were worried about the Governor's plans for education and schools and the likelihood that he would run again in 2024. They do not want to lose customers as a result.

A Mississippi-based organization that works with healthcare professionals has "Governor DeSantis" listed under the explanation.

The group was going to come to Fort Lauderdale for a staff retreat this summer, but they have decided to go to Denver instead, according to an event organizer who lacked authority to speak.

The polarization of gay rights and the "assault on diversity, equity, and inclusion" are to blame.

Although she is "saddened" by the decline in tourism, Stacy Ritter, president and chief executive officer of Visit Lauderdale, the tourism promotion arm of Broward County, noted that the decline is not specific to South Florida. We continue to operate in the same manner as we have for the past 30 years.

She added that since conventions typically sell out years in advance, the effects won't be felt for some time.

"This is seriously damaging from an economic perspective. People lose their jobs when tourists don't come back, as we witnessed in 2020.  The citizens of our county, whose values coincide with those of these organizations, suffer by not coming here. Businesses owned by women, people of color, and LGBTQ+ people depend on customers to survive. Avoiding them harms them directly.

A 3,000-person conference was scheduled for Fort Lauderdale in 2026 by the Chicago-based American Specialty Toy Retailing Association. On Thursday, a spokeswoman said they are "probably" going to Milwaukee.

According to spokeswoman Beth Miller, the organization "has a lot of people who don't like those politics at all."

She cited the "unfriendly political environment in Florida" in a letter to the tourism bureau.

Otherwise, the group would have the most amazing vacation spot here. I sincerely hope that soon there will be less polarization," she wrote to the county.

Ritter expressed her sadness, saying, "Everyone knows how welcoming and inclusive my hometown is. It's encouraging that this isn't directed at us because they are aware of our commitment to promoting inclusion and diversity. There isn't much we can do about it because it is a bigger message.

Texas will serve as the location of the aParent Miracles Foundation's getaway weekend in November, which is based in Atlanta.

After the NAACP issued a travel warning for Florida "in direct response to Governor Ron DeSantis' attempts to erase Black history, and to restrict diversity, equity, and inclusion programs in Florida schools," the group changed its mind, according to a letter the organizer sent to Ritter's office.

Additionally, the Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs, based in Washington, D.C., which had originally planned to visit Fort Lauderdale in January, changed its plans and went to New Orleans.

We "heard some rumblings some people might not be willing to attend" because of what are considered to be anti-migrant policies, according to executive director Daniel Sheehan. "We decided to cancel out of an excess of caution. He speculated that the group might show up again in the future.

The loss of conventions has been felt most acutely in Orlando, where organizations that chose to postpone their events have cited legislation that restricted most abortions after six weeks, permitted Floridians to carry concealed weapons without a permit, cracked down on illegal immigration, and addressed transgender and LGBTQ+ issues.

The 50th conference of the National Society of Black Engineers, which in 2024 would have drawn up to 15,000 people to the Orange County Convention Center, will now take place in a different city. National Society of Black Engineers activists expressed concern to the Orlando Sentinel about DeSantis' efforts to target diversity, equity, and inclusion programs in schools and how that would impact the organization's student members.

A gathering scheduled for August 25–27 at the Hyatt Regency Orlando was also canceled by the Con of Thrones, which usually attracts 3,000–4,000 fans of the "Game of Thrones" books and television shows.

On Thursday, a DeSantis spokesperson described the groups' announcements as "nothing more than a media-driven stunt."

Press Secretary Jeremy T. Redfern wrote in an email to the South Florida Sun Sentinel, "As Governor DeSantis announced in May, Florida is experiencing record tourism, with the Q1 2023 having the largest volume of visitors during a single quarter in recorded history." "Florida's economy is booming under the leadership of Governor DeSantis, with Florida being the state with the fastest growth and the largest net domestic in-migration."

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