As a County Commissioner, I have the opportunity to serve on the board of the Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau, a board that helps build and maintain Orange County’s tourism industry.

I’ve learned a lot.  I used to be one of those people who assumed that tourism just took care of itself.  After all, we’re home to one of the greatest universities in the country. Admissions are strong.  So people are just going to visit and stay here right?

Wrong.  Our entire region is a magnet for tourists now. We can’t take it for granted that travelers are going to stay and play in Chapel Hill, Carrboro, Hillsborough and Orange County anymore.  It takes work.  And we’ve had great success. But for the first time, I’m worried.

HB2 is hurting us. Tourism is declining, and we’ve lost an important conference:  the Public Management Research Associates Conference, scheduled to take place in Chapel Hill in June, 2017, has been cancelled. All because of HB2.

The anticipated economic loss is roughly $460,000 and those are dollars that will not be spent at restaurants, those are dollars that will not be spent retail establishments, and those are dollars that will not be spent hotels. That means potential jobs losses.

As cancellations mount, the Visitors Bureau projects a total loss to be approximately $1.2 million — and that’s just the business we can track.  Who knows how many folks were considering North Carolina for a visit and changed their mind?

The bottom line is our tourism industry is suffering.

HB2 is a complicated bill and we are legally bound by it.  But what saddens me most is that our area’s reputation as being a leader in social justice and an inclusive and welcoming enclave for all is now in question.

Let’s remember to welcome everybody, because everybody is welcome. That’s who we are, and who we will always strive to be.


— Penny Rich.