If you plan on protesting a ban on same-sex marriage, what better place than West Hollywood, Calif., a town known nationwide as a center for gay activism and politics?
But go there on vacation?
West Hollywood — where more than one-third of the population identifies as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender — is well known to people in the Los Angeles area and draws many visitors from around California. But it’s not a major national or international destination.
Now the city, eager to shore up revenue, wants to expand its reach. And with good reason: Even in a slumping economy, gay and lesbian tourists tend to wield more disposable income and are more likely to spend on travel and leisure than heterosexual tourists, studies have shown.
Over the past few years, cities such as Philadelphia, Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Chicago and Bloomington, Ind., have launched campaigns to attract gay tourists.
The gay-travel segment is so hot that American Airlines, among other large corporations, has a marketing manager whose job is to reach out to that demographic.
West Hollywood’s latest effort takes shape in a redesigned travel Web site (www.GoGayWestHollywood.com) that includes lists of hotels, clubs, bars and nighttime happenings that the visitors bureau believes would appeal to gay and lesbian tourists. The site includes a photo gallery and a list of weekly events, including nightclub parties with sexually suggestive titles. The photos include shots of shirtless men in leather as well as scenes from recent rallies in opposition to a proposed ban on same-sex marriage.
The Web site’s content may raise eyebrows among outsiders, concedes Bradley M. Burlingame, president of the West Hollywood Marketing & Visitors Bureau. But he pointed out that travel bureaus for exotic-vacation spots that cater to heterosexual tourists often feature attractive women in bikinis.
“It’s not our purpose to be a vehicle for people to hook up,” Burlingame said. “But in reality, people sometimes go on vacation in hopes of meeting someone they might like.”
But the main goal of the city’s campaign is to draw visitors who will spend.
A survey this year by Harris Interactive, a global market-research firm, found that gay and lesbian tourists were expected to spend on average $2,300 for vacations during the spring and summer, whereas heterosexual travelers planned to spend on average $1,500 for the same period.
Like West Hollywood, tourism bureaus and travel companies across the United States are welcoming gay tourists.
“All travel marketers today are working harder than ever in this tough economy,” said George Carrancho, American Airlines’ marketing manager for outreach to gay and lesbian customers. “From my experience, however, the very smartest ones also express their welcome and reputation for inclusion to gay and lesbian travelers.”
John Tanzella, president of the International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association, said more tourism bureaus from around the globe had joined his association and were launching campaigns to attract gay travelers.
“The bureaus are looking for new revenue streams, and the strength of the (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) travel market is well documented,” he said. “The LGBT community is passionate about traveling.”