Looking for a bright spot in the
economy, cities are increasingly marketing themselves to gay, and
lesbian tourists and big cities which thrive on gay dollars appear to
be scrambling to maintain their gay gleam.
Chicago routinely touts itself as a
gay-friendly city and continues to leverage any gay capital it might
have earned from hosting the 2006 Gay Games.
“Chicago, frankly, is just now
catching up to other cities who have been aggressively wooing the
pink dollar,” Mark Theis, executive vice president of the Chicago
Convention and Tourism Bureau, told the Chicago Tribune. “We
want people to know how gay-friendly we are and the wealth of
attractive assets we have.”
Cities are courting gay tourism because
it appears to be a fairly recession-proof market. Travel operators
that cater to the gay and lesbian community say they have seen no
drop in business during the economic downturn.
“Gay people will give up a lot of
things, but we won't give up our vacations,” Bryan Herb, co-owner
of Chicago-based Zoom Vacations, said.
Philadelphia launched their own gay
tourism marketing campaign in 2003 called Get Your History
Straight and Your Nightlife Gay. With a $300,000-a-year budget
the effort has managed to move Philadelphia into the
13th-most-visited U.S. destination for gay and lesbian travelers; up
from 20 in 2006.
Last week, Southwest Airlines announced
they had paired up with the city to reach more gay tourists.
The airline unveiled a new website
that combines airfare with 11 hotels known as gay-friendly in
“Airlines are beginning to recognize
that there is a major presence in the gay community in travel,”
Philadelphia Gay News Publisher Mark Segal told the
Philadelphia Inquirer. “Market research shows that gays
travel two-and-a-half times more for leisure than the average family man or
The gay and lesbian tourism market is
red hot due in part to the fact that gays on average travel more
often and spend more. A 2006 study by the U.S. Travel Association
found that gay men spend an average of $260 more per trip than their
A Southwest Airlines spokesperson said
ads touting gay-friendly Philadelphia will run through June in
regional and local gay and lesbian newspapers and websites across the
Philly's pitch for the gay dollar
revolves mostly around its deep American Revolution roots but also
reaches for gay and lesbian history.
“The gay rights struggle started
here,” Segal said. “The first public demonstrations for gay
rights was in Philadelphia July 4, 1965.”
But don't tell New Yorkers that. The
city has hung its gay tourism hat on being at the epicenter of the
gay rights struggle.
Tuesday, the city unveiled a new
marketing effort titled Rainbow
Pilgrimage Campaign. The campaign urges gay men and lesbians
to trek to New York City as it celebrates the 40th
anniversary of the Stonewall riots. The riots, which took place in
Greenwich Village, are often credited for sparking the modern gay
rights movement when patrons of the Stonewall Inn, mostly drag
queens, rebelled against police harassment in 1969. Rioters
violently fought back against officers over the course of several
In making its announcement, officials
said an estimated 10 percent of the city's 47 million visitors last
year were lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. And with a stonking
$1.9 million budget, the New York effort might well be the most
expensive gay tourism play yet.
In the fall, Chicago will host an
International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association board meeting, and
tourism officials continue to promote the city as a gay destination.
“Chicago is now stepping up a nice
campaign to market to gay and lesbian travelers,” Nibbio told the
Chicago Tribune. “And many of the major communities across
the country and around the world are doing the same:
corporation-wise, business-wise, various hotels. It has opened the
eyes of a lot of people that there's really a great value not only
financially but in the loyalty of the gay and lesbian market.”