Wednesday, August 08, 2001

Tourist bookings fall sharply


Conventions, businesses wary

By Randy Tucker
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Hotel and motel bookings in Greater Cincinnati fell sharply during the first half of the year, and some groups planning conventions here have canceled their plans or are reviewing other options.

        But members of local agencies that track tourism activity and economic development say a call for a boycott of the city hasn't been mentioned specifically as a reason some groups are avoiding the Queen City.

        Nonetheless, they say it's clear that the fallout from the April riots, including the boycott, has led many potential visitors to steer clear of the city and spend their time and money elsewhere.

        “The civil unrest certainly comes into play,” said Mike Wilson, president of the Greater Cincinnati Convention and Visitors Bureau.

        Organizers called for the boycott in mid-July after accusing city leaders of dragging their feet in imposing police reforms and addressing the racial issues that led to the April riots. The riots and protests were spurred by the fatal police shooting of an unarmed black man fleeing police.

        Boycott supporters said they would urge organizations with conventions here to meet elsewhere. They also demanded that the federal government and other national organizations withhold money from the city.

        Mr. Wilson said that between January and June, the number of bookings for future room reservations fell by about 10,000, from 133,000 in 2000 to 122,000 during the same period this year.

        Mr. Wilson said part of the decline could probably be attributed to a general slowdown in the economy and business travel.

        But, he said, media-fueled images portraying the city as a racial tinderbox have also contributed to the decline.

        “We have not seen a mass exodus of our booked business,” Mr. Wilson said. “But it (unrest) has had a definite impact on our ability to attract future business here.”

        That includes conventions.

        Mr. Wilson said the 1,200-member Black Airline Pilots' Association has canceled its plans for a convention here in August 2002 because of the racial turmoil in the city.

        And the Knights of St. Peter Claver, a religious group of about 400, has chosen to hold its biannual convention in Indianapolis next year rather than in Cincinnati because of the unrest, he said.

        Word of the upheaval has even tempered inquiries from international firms interested in locating businesses here, said Joe Kramer, vice president of economic development for the Northern Kentucky/Greater Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce.

        “The number of inquiries from international firms have been pretty much the same,” he said. “But the riots have been mentioned, and people are clearly aware” of the social climate in Cincinnati.

        Boycott supporters hope their efforts compound the economic pressure put on city leaders to find solutions to racial problems here.

        But it's too early to tell how effective their strategies might be, said the Rev. James Jones, one of the boycott organizers.

        “As far as direct action and activity, we haven't even started as of yet,” Rev. Jones said.

        So far, the groups' most notable action has been to launch a Web site (www.cincyboycott.org) to build national and international support for economic sanctions here.

        “We have a Web site, and we've received e-mails by the thousands from across the country, endorsing and supporting our effort,” Rev. Jones said.

        The Web site features flyers and handouts, explaining the boycott organizers' position and soliciting help from those who log on.

        Old news articles, detailing conflicts between black Cincinnatians, police and city officials also appear under the heading: “If there is no economic justice, no war waged on economic apartheid in our city, then there will be no peace.”

        In addition to the Web site, boycott supporters have made appearances on radio talk shows in Louisiana, California, Mississippi and Michigan, Rev. Jones said.

        “Just because the media here tries to blank us out, we can't be dismissed,” he said. “The fact that (Mayor Charlie Luken) would spend campaign money and time addressing the boycott shows people are concerned.”

        In his first TV ad of the mayoral campaign, Mr. Luken condemns the call for an economic boycott.

       



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