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Tourism official: Iowa vacations being canceled after Rep. Steve King's comments

State tourism office receiving feedback from 'hundreds of people'

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CEDAR RAPIDS — In the wake of controversial comments last week by U.S. Rep. Steve King, officials at the Iowa Tourism Office said they are hearing from people canceling vacations to Iowa.

On March 12, King, a Republican representing Iowa’s 4th District, retweeted a message from an anti-European Union media organization called “Voice of Europe” endorsing the Dutch far-right politician Geert Wilders.

King added his own comments to the tweet saying, “Wilders understands that culture and demographics are our destiny. We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.”

The comment drew condemnation from both sides of the political aisle and sparked outrage from across the country. King defended the tweet saying it was “not about race” but reiterated he meant “exactly what I said” in an interview with CNN.

Shawna Lode, manager of the Iowa Tourism Office, said officials there have heard from hundreds of people through phone calls, emails and social media posts stating they are changing their vacation plans in the coming spring and summer months.

Domestic travelers spent a total of $8.06 billion in Iowa in 2015, according to the Iowa Economic Development Authority. That spending supported about 67,000 tourism-related jobs.

Typically, Lode said the office receives a few complaints a month about people dissatisfied with hotel or restaurant service.

“This is certainly an unusual amount of feedback,” Lode said.

Laurie Haman, vice president of communications and marketing with the Iowa City/Coralville Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, said she’s not aware of any calls to her office.

“I think the tourism industry in general is watching this and watching how travel could be impacted, whether it’s anything happening in Washington, D.C., or locally,” she said.

Lode said several of the messages have been from people who have decided not to participate in this year’s Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa — or RAGBRAI — an event that attracts riders from across the country. This year’s ride — also one of the biggest tourism events for the state — is July 23-29.

TJ Juskiewicz, director of RAGBRAI, said his office has received “a handful of emails” regarding King’s comments.

“Our response is simple,” Juskiewicz said. “RAGBRAI is not a political event. We are here to ride bikes and enjoy Iowa. For 45 years, RAGBRAI has visited the towns of Iowa that have all done nothing but welcome riders of all backgrounds.”

Lode said the Iowa Tourism Office is encouraging people to reconsider, saying Iowa “is a welcoming place,” full of people who are “tolerant and diverse.”

“We just want people to recognize that a single person’s opinion is not representative of the whole state, including someone who is an elected official,” Lode said.

l Comments: (319) 368-8536; michaela.ramm@thegazette.com

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