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AZ battles negative image

Tourism industry gears up PR campaign against boycotts

PHOENIX - The state's tourism industry has come up with the answer to fighting the boycotts over the new immigration law. Better public relations.

The short version of its recommendation: Stop telling people Arizona is unsafe.

In a report released Wednesday, the Governor's Tourism and Economic Development Task Force said there's no need to "reposition" Arizona's brand and image.

What needs to be done, the group found, is convincing people, particularly groups that book conventions, that it is safe to come to Arizona, that they won't be kidnapped and they won't be forced to produce identification or face deportation.

To that end, the task force wants a fact sheet to "clarify facts and misconceptions" about SB 1070, and it wants to hire public relations specialist, using $250,000 in public funds and $30,000 from the Arizona Hotel and Lodging Association, to spread the message to select major U.S. cities, as well as Mexico.

Kristen Jarnagin, spokeswoman for the hotel group, said that message is being undermined by public officials using a border-crime crisis to justify cracking down on illegal immigration here.

"The information that we're giving to support 1070 in our state is that there's massive crime happening here and (we're the) kidnapping capital," Jarnagin said. "And those don't help tourism."

The responsible include Gov. Jan Brewer who has talked openly about crime she said is linked to illegal immigrants, including smuggling drugs, extorting people and terrorizing families, even contending on national television that law enforcement has found beheaded bodies in the Arizona desert.

Brewer press aide Kim Sabow defended the governor's comments, saying they "have helped to raise the level of awareness to the horrific activities penetrating Arizona from the south," which is necessary to combat the illegal activity and preserve the "desirable environment Arizona offers."

The report comes as the American Civil Liberties Union on Wednesday issued an advisory about traveling to Arizona for the Fourth of July weekend.

Alessandra Meetze, president of the Arizona chapter, said affiliates from 32 states are not telling people to stay away. What they are doing, she said, is telling those who intend to travel to Arizona they need to be informed of their rights.

"They should know the political realities on the ground and the social realities on the ground," she said.

Meetze said her office has been getting an increasing number of complaints from people who believe they are being targeted by police and asked for additional identification, even though SB 1070 does not take effect until July 29.

The law requires police to question those they have stopped for other reasons about their immigration status if there is "reasonable cause" to believe they are in this country illegally.

State Tourism Director Sherry Henry said she won't respond to the advisory. Instead, she said the job of her agency is to "tell the positive message" that "Arizona is still all the wonderful things it's always been."

Jarnagin said passage of SB 1070 has not affected individual decisions to vacation in Arizona as much as it has organizations deciding where to book their next meeting or convention.

Initially, Jarnagin said, the cancellations were from groups taking a stand against SB 1070. "But what we're hearing now ... is a lot of the meetings are bypassing Arizona because they just don't want to be associated with the controversy."

Jarnagin said one goal of the campaign will be to show those who plan meetings that groups which have come to Arizona anyway have not seen a drop in attendance. But she said it ultimately will come down to dispelling the image of Arizona as unsafe.


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Find extensive coverage of immigration issues, including expert analysis of SB 1070, at news/local/border

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