Faced with a growing national backlash, Arizona tourism officials are scrambling for ways to portray the state as racially open-minded and hospitable following the narrow defeat of a state holiday honoring the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. The effort, aimed at preventing a rash of trip cancellations, is shaping up on at least three fronts.

The Arizona Hotel and Motel Association already is urging its members to lobby state lawmakers to establish a state holiday when the legislature gathers in special session tomorrow. The legislature is meeting to determine procedure for a gubernatorial runoff. If the special session does not take up the King Day issue, it almost certainly will be reintroduced next year.

Meanwhile, the Arizona Office of Tourism is holding meetings statewide to consider a nationwide advertising campaign to counter the negative impact of the Nov. 6 vote. The major purpose would be to make the traveling public aware that King's birthday already is celebrated in 21 Arizona cities, including Phoenix, Tucson, Tempe, Glendale, Scottsdale and Flagstaff.

In addition, city and tourism officials in Phoenix, the state's largest convention destination, have sent letters to every group planning a meeting in the city in the next year, pointing out that the city officially celebrates King's birthday. The letters urge meeting planners to talk to city officials, including Mayor Paul Johnson himself, before deciding to cancel a conference.

"I think this whole thing caught the entire tourism industry by surprise," says Maggie Wilson, spokeswoman for the Arizona Office of Tourism. "Based on the polls, we thought this proposal {to make King's birthday a state holiday} was going to go through."

Tourism officials take the financial threat seriously. Since 1987, when former Gov. Evan Mecham (R) rescinded a King holiday proclaimed by his predecessor Bruce Babbitt (D), at least 58 groups canceled conventions in Phoenix, according to Larry Hilliard of the Phoenix Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. The cancellations represented a loss of 46,000 visitors and $30 million in revenues.

Tourism is Arizona's second-largest industry. The state attracts about 18.5 million visitors a year, who generate revenues of about $5.5 billion.