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Third State Considers Bathroom Bill, Hotels Could Suffer

Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said the so-called bathroom bill on the Senate floor Tuesday will not impact the Texas economy. Convention and visitors bureau executives say otherwise. 

Gender Neutral Bathroom

As the Senate hearing and public testimony for Senate Bill 6 began in Austin on Tuesday, many convention and visitors bureau heads gathered to oppose the proposed bill that would mandate each person use the restroom of the gender that appears on his or her birth certificate. 

The bill states that no city or county government can force businesses to operate their restrooms in a certain way, according to the author of the bill, State Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, causing many supporters to say the bill will not impact business.

“There is no evidence whatsoever that the passage of Senate Bill 6 will have any economic impact in Texas,” Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said on Monday.

But Austin CVB president and CEO Tom Noonan, who will speak at Bisnow's Austin State of the Market event on March 29, said he is getting regular phone calls and emails from potential Austin visitors rethinking their events.

Fairmont Austin hotel designed by Gensler
Rendering of Fairmont Austin

“I worry about lots of ramifications including the number of hotel rooms getting built, like at the Fairmont,” Noonan said. The four-star hotel will have more than 1,000 rooms when it delivers in August.

"The Austin hotel market is strong, but this is the kind of thing that has an impact," Noonan said. He does not necessarily think hotel developers should wait until the bill is decided to build, but he expects SB-6 is crossing the minds of hotel developers across the state. 

Twenty-four groups have said they will decline having an event in Austin if the bill passes, Noonan said. 

The Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau estimates that 100,000 room nights could be forfeited throughout various conventions and meetings if SB-6 passes. GHCVB president Mike Waterman spoke at the public hearing Tuesday on the economic impacts of the bill.

Three groups with estimated meeting spending around $3.1M will no longer consider San Antonio for their events because of the bill, Visit San Antonio (the city’s CVB) spokesperson Richard Oliver told the San Antonio Express-News on Friday. 

More than $200M worth of NCAA sanctioned events scheduled for the next 18 months are at risk to be lost with the passage of the bill, Visit Dallas CEO Phillip Jones said at a rally on Monday.

Third State Considers Bathroom Bill, Hotels Could Suffer

North Carolina implemented a comparable bill, called HB-2, in March 2016. North Carolina Lt. Gov. Dan Forest championed HB-2 in his state and spoke at the Texas Capitol yesterday. 

Forest said tourism in his state was up 3.5% in 2016. Though Forest said no businesses have left since the passage of HB-2, opponents say a more telling metric is the economic impact lost from businesses that have chosen not to open offices and hold events in the state.

By October, North Carolina’s bathroom bill had cost the state $395M. Now, one year after the bill’s passage, negative economic impact stands at $560M, according to a study by Facing South.

But Patrick is not concerned. “The stories of any negative economic impact are just false narrative put forth by the opposition,” he said. “Some might argue that when you have policies that protect women and children, that’s an added value to want to move your business to Texas.”

The Texas bill has garnered bipartisan backlash and support. Dallas city councilwoman (and daughter of former Dallas Cowboy and JLL executive chairman Roger Staubach) Jennifer Staubach Gates, though a conservative, has called SB-6 a dangerous distraction from true safety concerns and violence in Texas. On Monday, Democratic state Sen. Eddie Lucio said he would vote for SB-6. 

The state Senate needs 19 senators’ support to bring SB-6 to a vote. As of press time, 18 state senators are on board. It would still have to pass through the House after the state Senate. Speaker of the Texas House Joe Straus has publicly said the bill is not a priority for the House.

Tennessee senators are considering their own version of the bill

Hear more from Tom Noonan at our Austin State of the Market event on March 29. Get tickets here.