Advocacy Groups Weigh in on Florida Travel Advisories

More civil rights organizations are denouncing the state’s legislation, though many of them oppose travel boycotts.

Photo Credit: Mariana for Adobe Stock

Updated May 26, 2023

Just days after the NAACP issued a travel advisory for the state of Florida, other civil rights groups are publishing similar statements denouncing the state’s controversial legislation — but not necessarily backing a boycott.

In fact, several organizations that advocate for Black tourism argue that a travel boycott directly contradicts their efforts to "level the playing field for small Black businesses in Florida and across the country," and these businesses and marginalized communities "should not be the sacrificial lamb" in the effort to take a stand against racism, according to a joint statement signed by leaders of the Future of Black Tourism, Blacks in Travel & Tourism and the Black Travel Alliance.

"Perhaps the NAACP should have been intentional in meeting with the leaders of these Black travel and tourism entities to gain a broader perspective on the plight of small Black travel and tourism businesses and how any disruption of visitors patronizing their businesses can cause devastating financial losses," the statement noted, adding that many Black businesses are still trying to fully recover from the impact of the global pandemic.

The National Coalition of Black Meeting Professionals went a step further, providing guidance for planners on how to address their concerns with suppliers when considering meeting in Florida or any other destination that has "advanced policies that are unwelcoming" to Black, brown and/or LGBTQ+ individuals. The organization stated: "To be clear, the NAACP’s travel advisory is not a ban or a boycott of the state of Florida. It is an advisory that implores visitors to be aware of their surroundings and to be purposeful in how they engage while traveling."

The Florida Legislative Black Caucus expressed full support for the NAACP’s action, reported Florida Politics. After a May 23 vote on the issue, the group released a statement noting: "We have a responsibility to provide Floridians with an accurate and complete education on the history of our country — the good and the bad — and this kind of systemic erasure and disenfranchisement has no place in a functioning democracy. Providing Floridians with a holistic account of our nation’s history is not about 'wokeness,' it is a matter of being transparent."

Actions like the travel advisory are a justified way of demanding a change in policy by the state, Caucus members concluded.

Human Rights Groups Stand Against Hate Nationwide

Yesterday the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBTQ advocacy group, joined Equality Florida in issuing an updated travel advisory that details risks associated with relocation or travel to Florida, but without urging visitors to shun the state. "While not a blanket recommendation against travel nor a call for boycott, the travel advisory outlines the devastating impacts of laws that are hostile to the LGBTQ community, restrict access to reproductive health care, repeal gun safety policies, foment racial prejudice, and attack public education by banning books and censoring curriculum, in order that prospective travelers or residents can make the best decisions for themselves and their families," according to a joint statement.

Many note that similar laws are being passed nationwide. Just today, eight of the nation's largest human rights and equality organizations – the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), Everytown for Gun Safety, the NAACP, the National Education Association (NEA), the National Women's Law Center, Equality Federation, Asians Fighting Injustice and the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) – announced the launch of the Greater Than Hate Coalition, "a collective, multiracial, multicultural movement with the aim of fighting back against extremist politicians and their growing and loud campaign of hate."

NAACP Takes a Stand

The NAACP’s official May 20 travel advisory was an anticipated response to what the advisory terms "Gov. Ron DeSantis' aggressive attempts to erase Black history and to restrict diversity, equity and inclusion programs in Florida schools."

Similar advisories have been issued by the League of United Latin American Citizens, a Latino civil rights organization; Equality Florida, a gay rights advocacy group; and the Florida Immigrant Commission.

The decision by the NAACP’s board of directors came at the urging of the organization’s Florida chapter, which issued its own advisory in April, stating that “Florida is openly hostile toward African Americans, people of color and LGBTQ+ individuals. Before traveling to Florida, please understand that the state of Florida devalues and marginalizes the contributions of and the challenges faced by African Americans and other communities of color." 

Similarly, on April 11, Equality Florida, which advocates for equal rights for the state’s LGBTQ+ community, issued an advisory warning of the “risks to health, safety and freedom” associated with visiting or relocating to Florida. Driving the action, the organization cited “the passage of laws that are hostile to the LGBTQ community, restrict access to reproductive health care, repeal gun-safety laws, foment racial prejudice, and attack public education by banning books and censoring curriculum.” 

The Florida Immigrant Commission’s advisory, also issued on April 11, states: “Travel to all areas of Florida should be done with extreme caution, as it can be unsafe for people of color, individuals who speak with an accent and international travelers… Every county in Florida poses a heightened risk of harassment, possible detainment and potential family separation based on racial profiling.”

Legislation Has Spurred Action

Among many issues of debate — including controversial abortion legislation — is the bill CS/HB7, which was signed into law a year ago by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Known as the "Stop W.O.K.E. Act," it aims to "protect Floridians from discrimination and woke indoctrination" by limiting what workplaces and public schools can teach about race and identity. More recently, the Florida Department of Education also eliminated a high school advanced placement course in African American history, which covered topics such as slavery, Jim Crow laws, the civil rights movement and the Black Lives Matter movement.

In announcing the act in late 2021, Gov. DeSantis said the measure would "give businesses, employees, children and families tools to fight back against woke indoctrination," and would "take on both corporate wokeness and critical race theory."

Other divisive legislation has been criticized by LGBTQ+ and women’s rights advocacy groups. At the same time, supporters of the state laws have defended them as commonsense measures that have been mischaracterized by liberal opponents as discriminatory. See "What Florida’s Laws Really Mean" for a summary of the laws and the arguments both for and against them.

NAACP: Willing to Pay a Price for Progress

Whether or not the advisory will be approved is uncertain. NAACP’s national review and approval of such resolutions begins in May and concludes in July. In a press statement posted on the national NAACP website, board of directors’ chair Leon W. Russell noted: "Any attempt to intentionally erase or misrepresent Black history is a direct attack on the foundation of comprehensive education. Be clear: Black history is American history. We are proud of our Florida State Conference for meeting this moment with the equal aggression and intention that is a necessary response to these attacks. Any location in America where our history has been erased does not offer us or our children a bright future."

Leon W Russell NAACP
Leon W. Russell, chair, NAACP board of directors

A travel advisory "allows the NAACP to warn other Blacks across the country to not come to Florida, not send their children to Florida, not vacation in Florida if you’re Black," James Muwakkil, Florida’s Lee County NAACP branch president, told WINK News. The move is not without downsides, and Muwakkil expects fallout for Black-owned businesses in Florida. "There’s always going to be sacrifice when it comes to progress," he said. "There will always be burdens. But we have to push through it."

Several event organizers have already canceled or delayed events, or have pulled open requests for proposal from Florida, according to destination marketing executives.  

Bills on Race-Related Education Are in Play Nationwide

This type of legislation is not unique to Florida. Since January 2021, a total of 44 states have introduced bills or taken other steps that restrict teaching critical race theory or limit how teachers can discuss racism and sexism, according to an Education Week analysis. At present, 18 states have imposed bans or restrictions on education, either through legislation or other avenues.

Such actions have sparked criticism from educators, students and activists. Critics say failure to educate students on African American history will limit their understanding of racism and discrimination against Black people in the United States, and will undermine purported efforts to foster diversity, equity and inclusion in government and society.

On the other hand, some lawmakers, educators and parents have praised Florida’s action. "No Floridian should ever be subjected to discriminatory content or rhetoric, especially when at school or in the workplace," commented Florida Senator Manny Diaz, Jr., when the bill was signed on April 22, 2022. "Florida is committed to objectively teaching our students about important historical facts and events, not indoctrination," said Diaz, who became the state’s Commissioner of Education in June 2022.

Republican Rep. Bryan Ávila, a sponsor of the legislation, has characterized the bill as an effort to expand civil rights protections from being distorted by "movements," noted a Florida political journal that covered the bill’s presentation to the state’s House Judiciary Committee last year. "In Florida and across America, we can all agree that all people are created equal. And every person, regardless of their race, sex, religion or any other quality, is entitled to their dignity as an individual," Ávila said in defending the bill.

Can Groups Effect Change Without Boycotting?

Event DEI strategist Zoe Moore is a harsh critic of Florida’s policies regarding education, asserting that the legislation reverses progress on civil rights for Black Americans. "This isn't a liberal fight against a conservative fight," she said. "This is about human rights."

Zoe Moore DEI strategist
Zoe Moore, event DEI strategist

A travel advisory from the NAACP would raise awareness that discriminatory policies are in place in the state, she added. As for whether to boycott, that should be a "nuanced conversation" among meeting and event planners, she explained. "Yes, boycotts hurt hotel staff and local businesses, but I don't want to convolute that with saying boycotts don't work, because then we're dismissing their effectiveness to raise awareness and put pressure on those who can influence change."

Groups opposed to Florida’s education plan — or any other controversial legislation in Florida or elsewhere — should carefully strategize how to make their presence productive for the community, said Moore. "Take every opportunity to make it known that you cannot tolerate these discriminatory laws."

Jason Dunn Cincinnati CVB National Coalition Black Meeting Professionals
Jason Dunn, executive director, NCBMP

This is a particularly sensitive issue for the National Coalition of Black Meeting Professionals. "Unfortunately, we are often faced with the inner conflict and weight of the social, political and professional burdens of our constituency," commented Jason Dunn, Sr., the organization’s executive director. "We understand the power and influence of tourism to any economy. We also understand the importance of dignity, truth and one’s right to freely express their opinion. Although we can’t predict what the future holds in the coming months," Dunn added, "you can count on NCBMP to be on the right side of history." 

While he declined to comment further on whether NAACP members will avoid meeting in Florida, Dunn added one more detail: "The NAACP is a member of ours."

DI’s Message: Boycotts Hurt Travel and the Economy

"We’ve been here before," said Jack Johnson, chief advocacy officer for Destinations International, in reference to the potential travel-advisory issuance. Regardless of one’s opinion on the controversy at hand, staying away from certain cities or states unfairly targets the hospitality industry, Johnson explained.

Jack Johnson Destinations International
Jack Johnson, Destinations International

"Boycotts are not effective because they aren’t narrowly tailored enough to inflict pain on the people who can make the change," Johnson stressed. "There are almost 3.4 million African Americans living in Florida. Is the NAACP saying, 'Don't come visit your relatives?' Are they asking 3.4 million people to move?"

Discouraging Black visitors and residents would counteract the intent of the boycott, which is to foster change in the state, noted Johnson. "If you're going to boycott traveling and moving to Florida, you're basically freezing Florida in its current mode. People should be doing the opposite — going to Florida explaining why these policies are wrong or why they disagree with them."

The Politics of Site Selection

The topic of travel boycotts was particularly top of mind last year, as citizens across the country reacted to state abortion bans and restrictions. Such laws did affect site-selection decisions for organizations, particularly those whose core missions involved women’s rights, medical freedoms or progressive policies.

Boycotts are a hot-button issue for the American Society of Association Executives. Prior to the Dobbs decision last year, which overturned Roe v. Wade, ASAE had been using contract language for years that allowed the group to cancel without penalty if new legislation in a meeting destination were to repeal existing legal protections or allow any form of discrimination — and the organization had been sharing that "out clause" with the industry. The association has since "clarified" its position on boycotts and released a decision tool to guide planners toward effective alternatives. (See related story, "Should You Cancel That Meeting? How to Make the Call."

Michelle Mason ASAE
Michelle Mason, president and CEO, ASAE

"In ASAE’s case, the input of our destination partners in the host city can often help us address policy concerns and maintain our values without moving a meeting or boycotting a city or state," said Michelle Mason, ASAE president and CEO. "Unfortunately, we know issues like this will continue to rise. As an industry, we need to collectively think about the best ways to achieve broad change in a city or state without punishing the destination and its citizens economically." She added, "Every organization must make decisions in accordance with their core values, and I’m certain the NAACP is going through a deliberative process in this instance."

Industry Associations Warn Against the "Weaponization of Travel"

DI first spoke out strongly against "the weaponization of travel" in 2019, when several states were in favor of "bathroom bills" and other laws limiting the rights of gay and transgender individuals. The association provided research-backed reasons not to use travel or meetings as a political threat. Instead, DI suggested going to the very places that passed legislation a group opposes and expressing objections in person.

Many other industry associations, including the International Association of Exhibitions and Events, joined DI last year in the effort to argue against boycotting destinations. "IAEE is vehemently opposed to boycotts at any level that are detrimental to our industry, period," said IAEE president and CEO David DuBois. "The intentions are honorable," he added, "but taking actions that negatively affect your own communities doesn’t make sense. We're not going to just walk away and go, 'Oh, we're not coming now,' because they'll just sell the dates to somebody else."

A spokesperson for the U.S. Travel Association noted that travel is a powerful tool for effecting change: "History proves that travel opens minds to diverse ideas and builds new connections. We encourage leaders to leverage travel’s unique ability to drive progress rather than shut the door in opposition to policies with which they disagree."

A Recent History of NAACP Travel Advisories

The NAACP has issued other travel advisories — not boycotts — in recent years. In 2017, the organization cautioned travelers going to the state of Missouri, citing incidents of racial discrimination and harassment against people of color. The advisory was lifted in 2019 after the state passed a law addressing some of the concerns that prompted it.

Also in 2017, the organization issued a travel advisory for American Airlines, citing a series of incidents involving disrespectful and discriminatory behavior by airline employees. The NAACP lifted the advisory nine months later, noting the airline had addressed the issues and was making improvements.