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 Philadelphia.

“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 woman.”

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 straight counterparts.

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 country.

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 days.

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.”