Monday, February 13, 2006

USA Today: Gay Travelers to Red States

USA Today, one of America's most widely-circulated papers, has again published a story about the increased marketing efforts that cities/states are pursuing to attract the GLBT dollar.

Cities in red states play ball with gay travelers
By Jayne Clark, USA TODAY

Even as Arizona conservatives push to get an initiative banning same-sex marriage on the ballot this fall, its capital is actively courting gay travelers.

But Phoenix is just one of a growing number of red-state enclaves vying for a piece of the estimated $65 billion spent annually on U.S. travel by gay men and lesbians. And in doing so, these cities are distinguishing themselves from state politics.

"The feedback we're getting is that (gay travelers) are hyper-aware of city and state policies, and it's a factor that goes into the mix of making their vacation decisions," says Thomas Roth, president of Community Marketing Inc., a research firm specializing in gay travel.

"The gay community votes with its wallet," Roth says. "And one qualifier is whether a destination is doing explicit outreach to our community."

In Phoenix, city and tourism officials met last month to fine-tune efforts to attract this segment. The tourist bureau has taken out a full-page ad in the gay travel magazine Passport, featuring a rear-view close-up of a baseball player with the caption: "To the rest of the country, they're the 'Boys of Summer.' To Phoenix, they're the 'Boys of Summer, Spring, Winter and Fall.' "

In suburban Tempe, tourism officials have been studying gay market possibilities for several years and in December added a gay-targeted portal to its visitor website.

In January, Dallas launched a website,, aimed at gay, lesbian,
bisexual and transgender visitors. The site complements a marketing campaign
launched a year ago that has helped attract events such as the gay volleyball
championships and the International Gay Rodeo Association.

Atlanta's gay-friendly tourism pitch "We're out to show you a good time!" was initiated
several years ago in regional and national media. And red state communities as
diverse as Bloomington, Ind., Clearwater/St. Petersburg, Fla., and Las Vegas
have embarked on similar initiatives.

Gay-centric travel advertising isn't new. Fort Lauderdale first targeted the market in 1995. Last year, the city attracted 850,000 gay travelers who spent $810 million-plus. Eighteen months ago, Philadelphia made waves when it premiered the first, gay-specific destination-sponsored TV ad (the Penn Pals spot is still airing on cable
networks) as part of a three-year, $1 million effort. In December, a study to
gauge its effectiveness indicated that spending among overnight gay visitors
rose 30%, from $179 a day in 2003 to $233 in 2004 — more than twice that of
general vacationers.

Indeed, economics, not politics, is the driving force for these efforts.

"Around here, we like to say, the color of diversity is green," says Gregory Pierce senior vice president at the Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau.

"Gay tourism is a growth industry," says Jeff Guaracino of Philadelphia's tourism office. "More and more, gay travel as a good business decision is being understood and accepted."

The city has seen a return of $153 in spending for every dollar invested in gay marketing, he says. The current targeted slogan: "Get Your History Straight and Your Nightlife Gay."

Other travel realms are aiming at gay travelers as well.
•American Airlines created the micro site in November to
spotlight packages to events such as Gay Ski Week at Whistler in Canada and to
gay-friendly destinations.
•The Travel Channel will air its first gay-oriented travelogue this spring and plans to gear additional programming toward the segment.
•Travelocity launched a gay travel portal in June 2004; Orbitz has maintained a gay micro site since May 2002.

Meanwhile, some officials express surprise at the lack of backlash by conservative groups against gay-targeted marketing.

In Dallas, the reaction was more along the lines of "What took you so long?" than "Why are you doing this?" says Dallas CVB president Phillip Jones.

And in Phoenix, Tom Simplot, a gay city councilman who has spearheaded efforts to ramp up gay travel marketing in that city, notes that although "just a few years ago, the notion of glbt (gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender) tourism was unthinkable, I haven't seen any evidence of influence by the Christian right when it comes to tourism. We already have a sizable gay tourism market. We're just not getting as much as we