Dallas Drawing More Gay Tourists

DallasDallas’ efforts to tap into the gay and lesbian travel market appear to be paying off.
The city, which launched a niche marketing campaign two years ago, has attracted more than 20 meetings and conventions and raised awareness among travelers.
“We’ve come a long way in a short time, and we have some momentum going,” said Phillip Jones, chief executive of the Dallas Convention & Visitors Bureau.
In a survey by Community Marketing Inc. of more than 6,300 gay and lesbian travelers, about 14 percent said they had visited Dallas in the last year, up from 9 percent a year earlier.
The gay and lesbian market has become particularly attractive for tourism marketers in recent years because its members take more trips and spend more than the average traveler. Gay and lesbian travelers take an average of five trips a year, compared with about three trips for the typical U.S. traveler. Spending is also significantly higher, with gay and lesbian travelers spending $6,273 a year on trips, compared with about $2,955 for other travelers.
The city tied with San Diego as the seventh most popular destination for business trips among gay and lesbian travelers.
“Travel is considered to be a right to … [the gay and lesbian market] rather than a luxury,” said Jerry McHugh, manager of market research and development for Community Marketing Inc. in San Francisco.
Mr. Jones said targeting the segment simply makes economic sense, pointing to research by Witeck-Combs Communications and Harris Interactive that the roughly 16 million adult gay consumers in the United States represent $641 billion in buying power.
“The gay market is very loyal,” Mr. Jones said. “If there’s a perception that you’re reaching out to them, then they’ll reward you with their business.”
Dallas’ marketing effort is relatively small. The bureau spends about $50,000 annually marketing to the niche group – less than a third of what it spends courting Latino and African-American visitors.
The city launched a niche Web site aimed at gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender travelers in January, to round out marketing efforts aimed at other key tourism groups.
Dallas has also worked with the local gay community, which is the sixth-largest in the nation.
Steve Jolly, a local marketer who works for the Dallas visitors bureau, said the efforts have helped events like Halloween and Gay Pride week, attracting complementary events that encourage visitors to extend their trips.
Mostly, the bureau has relied on public relations efforts. When travel writers or meeting planners are in town, the bureau tries to have them meet with city leaders, including Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez, who is a lesbian.
“It blows them away when they see for themselves what a diverse, progressive and inviting city this is,” Mr. Jones said.
The city’s appeals won over the Washington-based Family Pride Coalition. The gay family advocacy group conducted its national conference in Dallas last month after the bureau made a presentation at the organization’s office.
Though some members were initially reluctant to bring their meeting to Texas – where a gay-marriage ban passed with 76 percent support last year – Dallas was chosen over Minneapolis and Chicago, said the group’s executive director Jennifer Chrisler.
“There’s a very large and vibrant gay parenting community in Dallas and an even larger gay and lesbian community in Texas – that coupled with the fact that Texas is a place where there is still a lot of work to be done to educate people about gays and lesbians and what their lives are like, what their families are like,” she said. “It really made Dallas the right choice at the right time.”
With about 250 people attending, Mr. Jones said winning the Family Pride conference was the bureau’s biggest success so far. The weekend drew rave reviews.
“I think it was an extraordinarily positive experience in that most of the participants found Dallas to be a warm, receptive inviting place for them,” Ms. Chrisler said.
from The Dallas Morning News

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