Georgia tourism officials are already feeling the pressure of immigration law

A horse-drawn carriage passes a historic home in Savannah, Georgia, one of the state's tourist hotspots.

HIGHLIGHTS OF THE STORY

  • The tourism industry in Georgia is preparing for possible consequences of the new law
  • Gov. Nathan Deal prepares to sign controversial immigration reform bill into law
  • Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau calls bill 'unwelcome'
  • The group says it will move its conference outside of Georgia if the governor signs the bill

(CNN) – True to the official state song, Georgia employs a lot of people these days, but not for the reasons the state's tourism industry might have hoped.

As Gov. Nathan Deal prepares to sign a controversial immigration reform bill, critics of the law are viewing the state's lucrative hospitality sector as a way to vent their anger and force change.

Sound familiar? A similar campaign launched a year ago in Arizona in response to immigration law there, prompting dozens of groups to cancel meetings or conventions and prompting some tourists to book trips elsewhere.

As Georgia prepares for possible backlash, Arizona continues to assess the impact of the protests.

The state's resorts and hotels are still struggling to attract national association meetings, according to an analysis published last week by the Arizona Daily Star.

“There is no doubt that there is a lasting effect,” Richard Vaughan, senior vice president of the Metropolitan Tucson Convention and Visitor Bureau, told the newspaper.

Meanwhile, a report from the liberal Center for American Progress estimated that Arizona lost $141 million in direct congressional spending after passage of the law prompted dozens of groups to cancel their meetings.

(There were also counter-protests: Some supporters of the law said they would book trips to Arizona specifically to express their support for the state.)

Arizona's tourism industry continues to be an economic driver, Gov. Jan Brewer said in a statement.

Lodging occupancy in the state saw a nearly 6% increase in March compared to the same period in 2010, the Arizona Office of Tourism said on its website.

Atlanta responds

Hoping to prevent boycotts, some tourism officials in Georgia are calling on Deal to change his mind.

Late last month, the Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau Executive Committee passed a resolution opposing the bill, calling it “unwelcome.”

About 34 million convention attendees and tourists visit Atlanta each year, generating more than $10 billion, the agency said.

“The Atlanta hospitality industry is concerned that the negative perceptions associated with this legislation could harm Atlanta’s reputation as one of America’s most hospitable cities,” the resolution states.

“The loss of potential convention and tourism-related revenue would have a negative impact on Atlanta’s economy.”

Calls for a boycott

So far, no group has contacted the Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau to cancel a meeting, spokeswoman Lauren Jarrell said.

But there are rumors of a protest. The group Southerners on New Ground is calling for a nationwide boycott of conventions and vacation trips to Georgia, while a blog post on the group's website Somos Georgia warns: “Veto HB87 or boycott!” The choice is yours, Governor Deal!!”

Immigration reform now?

And last week, the US Human Rights Network, which describes itself as a coalition of civil and human rights organizations, announced that it would move its 2011 national conference – scheduled for December in Atlanta – outside of Georgia if Deal announced his intention to do so the act implements the bill signing.

“Unless Governor Deal vetoes this bill or until it is repealed, the network will continue to fulfill its commitment to the rights of all people by moving its operations elsewhere,” Ajamu Baraka, the group’s executive director, said in a statement.

“The last thing Georgia needs in these tough economic times is to follow Arizona’s path and become a national pariah.”

Tourism plays a big role in Georgia

Georgia lawmakers passed the immigration reform bill last month.

The bill would allow law enforcement officials, among other things, to ask about immigration status when interviewing suspects in certain criminal investigations. It punishes people who transport illegal immigrants while committing a crime and imposes heavy prison sentences on those who use fake documents to get a job.

Advocates blame illegal immigrants for overcrowding Georgia schools and forcing taxpayers to shoulder the burden of emergency medical care for undocumented residents.

Opponents argue the bill could encourage racial profiling and discrimination. They also said the measure could harm the state's image and economy.

According to the US Travel Association, tourists spent nearly $20 billion in Georgia, and tourism had a total economic impact of more than $31 billion for the state in 2009.