Lesbian Notions - The Intentional Tourist

You’d expect it from Boston, Provincetown, Key West, and Palm Springs, to name a few gay hot spots. But who would have ever thought that Bloomington, Ind., or Minneapolis, Minn. would get into the act?
What’s the act? Marketing to gay and lesbian tourists. With the U.S. LGBT travel and tourism market worth $65 billion a year, even middle America wants to get into the act.

The folks at the Tempe, Ariz., Convention and Visitors Bureau have been marketing to the community for the past three years. Phoenix is getting ready to launch a campaign it has developed with the Greater Phoenix Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce.

Many of the cities jumping on the LGBT tourism bandwagon may be taking their cues from Philadelphia, which proved itself the City of Brotherly Love with not just a gay-friendly, but a gay-positive marketing campaign.

Entitled “Get Your History Straight and Your Nightlife Gay,” the marketing campaign is estimated to have brought millions of dollars to Philly’s local economy. According to the research department of the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation (GPTMC), we spend more money than our straight counterparts -$233 per overnight visit compared to their “general” overnighters, who only spend $101.

GPTMC spent $1 million - of taxpayer and hotel tax money - placing ads in LGBT publications and websites to lure us to Philly. Clearly, it worked, but not everyone’s happy about it. State Representative Daryl Metcalfe (R) wants the funding to stop.

In a memo to his colleagues he wrote, “We should not ask constituents to fund behavior that is against their religious and moral beliefs.” Well, if we all could only pick and choose where and how our tax dollars are used, we might not be in Iraq, there might be a cure for HIV, and all LGBT centers across the country would receive federal funding.

Unfortunately, we don’t choose - that’s something we leave up to our elected officials. Perhaps some things will change for the better given the new Congress.

Rep. Metcalfe threatened to wage a budget battle during the 2006 legislative session. The session ended with the campaign’s funding intact. While Metcalfe’s diatribes didn’t gain any traction in Pennsylvania - whose voters also tossed out U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum (R) last year - there is fear in some cities across the country that anti-LGBT rhetoric and political action could hurt their local economies.

Wisconsin’s tourism industry - one of the state’s biggest businesses - is concerned about a boycott, because the state that brought us Senator Joseph McCarthy also brought us a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. In August, before the vote, Doug Neilson, president of Visit Milwaukee, said that anything that discourages gays from visiting the state is a “concern.”

And concerned he should be. U.S. foreign and domestic policies may very well impact LGBT travel to this country from abroad. A recent survey by Community Marketing, a consulting firm that specializes in LGBT tourism, found that 68 percent of gays and lesbians from outside the country said the Iraq war and the gay marriage bans were a deterrent to traveling here.

The same-sex marriage debate is also causing LGBT Canadians to think twice before crossing the border. With Canadians comprising the largest segment of foreign travelers to this country, our state-sanctioned homophobia is costing us foreign travel dollars.

It may also be costing us domestic tourism income, too, since 74 percent of U.S. lesbians and gay men polled by Community Marketing say they are more apt to visit a foreign country with a progressive political profile than to travel within our 50 states. For those of us who do stay stateside, a recent LGBT travel study conducted by the Travel Industry Association, Harris Interactive, and Witeck-Combs found that 48 percent of gay men and 47 percent of lesbians consider whether a destination within the U.S. is “gay-friendly” when making their travel decisions.

The study also found that the most important criterion is going to a destination that supports diversity and LGBT civil rights, and where visitors will be free from harassment. However, gay men are more likely to cite gay nightlife as an important factor in travel, whereas lesbians are much more concerned with personal safety, wanting a place “where I can hold my partner’s hand in public.”

“Gay-friendliness is frequently mentioned as a litmus test for how LGBT travelers and consumers favor destinations, travel brands, and services,” said Bob Witeck at the National Press Club event that unveiled the study. “We find they are not looking for special treatment, but instead, expecting consideration and equal respect given all customers.”

Witeck’s right - we don’t want special treatment. Just like straight people, we want to be marketed to, feel safe, and be respected. If more cities across the country go with the program regarding LGBT travel, they would not only see how green the rainbow flag can be, but they’d also see what wonderful people we really are.

Libby Post is the founding chair of the Empire State Pride Agenda and a political commentator on public radio, on the Web, and in print media. She can be reached at LesbianNotions@qsyndicate.com.

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