Acknowledging that Arizona has developed a serious image problem because of its tough , Gov. Jan Brewer and tourism-industry leaders said Thursday that they will launch a new effort to stanch the flow of lost trade and convention business in the state.
The legislation and firestorm of negative publicity that followed brought calls for boycotts, moved groups to back out of local conventions and led several cities to cut business ties with Arizona companies.
The loss of business is critical in a recession-battered state vitally dependent on visitor spending.
"It's up to us to get the truth out there. This is impacting Arizona's face to the nation," said Brewer, who blamed the controversy on misconceptions about the law.
A new task force is charged with rebranding and repositioning the state as a unique destination spot.
That is sure to be a tough task after weeks of talk-show comedians, celebrities, politicians and others making Arizona a punch line, calling the law racist and drawing comparisons to fascism and Nazi Germany ...
One of the task force's first goals will be trying to stop the trend of boycotts, officials said. An early plan for how to do that is due in about a month.
"The end goal is to reassert that we are a safe, inviting, diverse and culturally aware community," said Steve Moore, president and CEO of the Greater Phoenix Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Brewer agreed to transfer $250,000 from the Arizona Department of Commerce to the Arizona Office of Tourism to support the effort.
Tactics will likely include not only a marketing campaign but direct contacts with the tourism industry elsewhere in the country.
The backlash against Arizona couldn't come at a worse time, convention and business leaders say.
The state, which took in $18.5 billion in visitor spending in 2008, has seen its tourism industry struggle in the past couple of years as the U.S. economy sagged ...
Officials were just starting to see signs of life when the backlash over the new immigration law began, said Debbie Johnson, CEO of the Arizona Tourism Alliance and the Arizona Hotel and Lodging Association.
To date, dozens of cities and groups have announced boycotts. Arizona has lost at least 30 to 40 meetings and conventions, she said.
"We were surprised by (the boycotts)," Johnson said. "We didn't think it was going to be a tourism issue. This is a political issue."
The new task force has about 15 members representing business throughout the state's tourism industry ... How to rebrand the state to potential visitors has not yet been decided.
"We're hearing from our sales people in the hotels and resorts, that people aren't returning their calls anymore - that they don't even want to talk to Arizonans," she said.
Tourism officials huddled for nearly two hours in Brewer's offices at the state Capitol on Thursday, discussing early strategies and devising ways to push the rebrand out to the public. They offered no time frame for fixing the problem but acknowledged this will have to be a long-term effort.
Brewer attended the meeting for the first hour, and both she and others said there was no discussion of delaying enactment of the immigration law.
The governor said much of the furor is caused by what she characterized as "mistruths" about the new law.
As an example, Brewer said it has been erroneously reported that the new immigration law would allow racial profiling and that visitors can't come to Arizona without ID or they'll be arrested.
"You aren't going to be asked for ID unless you first commit a crime," she said.
The managers of some local hotels praised the creation of the task force and said everyone is working together to fix the problem.