Post-RFRA Perception Study Yields 'Striking' Results

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This year marks the first time Indiana ranked in the top 10 in the Forbes list. This year marks the first time Indiana ranked in the top 10 in the Forbes list.

Visit Indy says a post-RFRA survey on the city's perception shows "we've got our work cut out for us." The survey, conducted by Indianapolis-based Walker, involves meeting site selection decision-makers nationwide as well as residents of Chicago, which is Indy's top leisure market. Among the key findings of the study: 58 percent of meeting decision-makers citing LGBT issues when asked about Indianapolis making recent news, and less than half of Chicago residents agreeing with the statement "Indy Welcomes All." Vice President Chris Gahl believes the city has made progress in improving its perception after the RFRA fallout, which he says included more than one billion negative online comments and interactions.

Gahl says the survey, taken in October, included 339 meeting decision-makers and 419 Chicago residents. Visit Indy will use the data to help shape its strategies to sell and market the city and drive tourism.

He says perception issues in the wake of RFRA have had a negative impact on the city, citing "at least a handful" of conventions or meetings that have left the city, citing the issue. Some Indiana lawmakers say expanding the state's civil rights laws to include protection for sexual orientation and gender identity could play a key role in improving Indiana's reputation. While Visit Indy is a non-political organization, Gahl says it is sharing the survey data with legislators in hopes of keeping them fully-informed on the issue.

One of the crown jewels of Indianapolis' convention calendar is Gen Con, which draws more than 56,000 attendees and has an annual economic impact of more than $50 million. Chief Executive Officer Adrian Swartout has said he is "disappointed" that Governor Mike Pence signed the act into law, but believes the city's business community does not support the legislation. The convention's contract with the city runs through 2020, and Swartout says discussions are ongoing about whether to keep the event in Indianapolis after that. Gen Con announced last month that this summer's event will expand into Lucas Oil Stadium.

Among the key findings from the meeting decision makers surveyed:

  --45 percent agree with the statement, "Indy Welcomes All"
  --28 percent agree with the statement, "Indiana Welcomes All"
  --58 percent cited RFRA/LGBT issues when asked, "Has Indianapolis been in the news recently, and if so, for what topic(s)?
  --35 percent agree or strongly agree with the statement, "Indianapolis has a strong and diverse business community."

Among the key findings from the Chicago residents surveyed:

  --43 percent agree with the statement, "Indy Welcomes All"
  --38 percent agree with the statement, "Indiana Welcomes All"
  --29 percent agree or strongly agree with the statement, "The state of Indiana and Indianapolis brands are the same."
  --32 percent agree or strongly agree with the statement, "Indianapolis has a strong and diverse business community."

Visit Indy says another recent research finding from Smith Travel Research, a global company that has conducted perception studies for more than 20 years, shows decision makers throughout North America list "recent bad publicity" among the top 10 deterrents in picking a city. The same study ranked Indianapolis 39th out of 40 for recent bad publicity.

Gahl says all eyes are on the Statehouse as Visit Indy shapes its strategy.
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