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Tourism groups work to promote positive message in wake of RFRA

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Around the state and around the county, there’s been an uproar since Governor Pence signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law. Many businesses are threatening to pull conventions, while celebrities are threatening to boycott the state.

So, now, the big question is will tourism take a hit?

Last year, the state unveiled its new slogan “Honest to Goodness Indiana” and now, in the wake of the religious freedom bill, it certainly seems to fit what many are thinking. But Downtown Indy, Visit Indy, the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce and others are working hard to get one message out loud and clear: it’s still all about Hoosier Hospitality.

Brenda Myers, president of Hamilton County Tourism, said the county attracts 3 million visitors a year from Klipsch Music Center, to Conner Prairie to Grand Park, making it the third largest county for tourism in the state.

Myers said tourism officials there have one message for those visitors.

“We’re ready and open for business,” said Myers.

And they are monitoring the situation.

“I hope that we can somehow communicate that this bill is not distinctive to Indiana and that really what we’re about in our industry is welcoming people,” Myers said. “And that we in no way want to exclude people.”

It’s the same message Downtown Indy wants to get out. They’ve partnered with Open for Service for the “We Welcome All” video challenge and are asking people to create a two-minute, non-political video with downtown as a backdrop talking about the city’s welcoming atmosphere.

“We just want to spread that message that we are welcoming and we are inclusive and we’re not going to turn anyone away,” said Amanda Dorman, communications manager with Downtown Indy.

But concern is growing. The Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce said it’s received numerous calls from out of state.

“People that have said they love Indiana, they love our city but they just can’t bring themselves to bring business to our city at this point,” said Mark Fisher, vice president of government relations for the Chamber.

Fisher said the Chamber warned legislators such a backlash was possible and is now a stark reality. But they’re not giving up yet.

“There’s still a lot of time in the legislative session and we will not be giving up the fight to rectify this,” he said.

Chris Gahl, Vice President of Marketing and Communications for Visit Indy, said over the last 72 hours they have “received more than 100 emails and calls from convention meeting planners and leisure visitors, expressing concern over the new bill.”

“We have turned the page from opposition of the bill to moving forward,” he said. “Helping reassure our visitors our ‘Hoosier Hospitality’ isn’t going away.”

Several businesses have posted on social media that they’ve already taken a hit with orders related to next weekend’s Final Four, as well as calls and emails from out of state customers letting them know they won’t be in as long as the law stands.

For more information on the Downtown Indy “We Welcome All” video challenge, click here.