Chicago Gets Good Grades From Gay & Lesbian Visitors

ChicagoChicago may not be up there with San Francisco or Key West as a prime destination for gay and lesbian travelers, but it more than holds its own nationally, outshining the rest of the Midwest and many other major cities, according to a survey to be unveiled Wednesday morning.
The Windy City trailed traditionally gay-friendly vacation spots on both coasts in terms of perceived goodwill toward gays and lesbians, tying for the No. 11 spot with three other cities. Still, 29 percent cited Chicago as welcoming, and among gay men the number spiked to 42 percent.
“We think that’s huge; we’re surprised at that,” said Laura Mandala, an executive with the Travel Industry Association, which conducted the survey with Harris Interactive and Witeck-Combs Communications Inc., which specializes in the gay and lesbian consumer market.
After San Francisco and Key West, the top destinations were New York City; Fire Island, N.Y.; and Provincetown, Mass. Chicago found itself on par with San Diego, Boston and Ft. Lauderdale and way ahead of Philadelphia, Minneapolis, Nashville and Detroit.
The national online survey of 2,020 gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender travelers was the Travel Industry Association’s first attempt to gauge the preferences of this key market niche, which Mandala describes as “historically underserved.”
“We know they are there, but have we really done anything to ensure they feel comfortable, that they have a good experience?” she said. “Some companies have, but overall we haven’t really reached out to them.”
Chicago and Illinois tourism officials were heartened by the survey results but are looking for more growth as well.
“I hope we can ride the wave of the Gay Games,” said Jan Kostner, deputy director of the Illinois Bureau of Tourism, referring to the July event that drew thousands to Chicago.
On an ongoing basis, the city offers Gay Chicago Greeter Tours, which are free, customized walking tours, as well as the annual Gay Pride Parade and the Northalsted Market Days, noted Dorothy Coyle, director of the Chicago Office of Tourism. And its profile should be lifted further next spring with the opening of the Center on Halsted, a gay community center whose services will include distribution of visitor information, she said.
Some businesses, including Kimpton Hotels, are doing their own target marketing. In sync with the Gay Pride Parade in June, Hotel Allegro and Hotel Burnham offered special package deals. At the Hotel Allegro, for instance, the “Love Shack Romantic Getaway” offered a bottle of Moet & Chandon champagne, a bowl of strawberries and a large can of whipped cream.
In a separate survey, San Francisco-based Community Marketing Inc. estimates gays and lesbians may represent at least 5 percent of U.S. travelers and spend $55 billion a year.
The Travel Industry Association did not attempt to gauge the size of the market, but it found gay men significantly outspend straight travelers when traveling solo. That distinction generally fades when traveling with others.
It also showed certain brand preferences, with American and Southwest leading among airlines, Avis among car rentals, Atlantis among cruise lines, Hilton among hotels and Orbitz among travel Web sites.
“The companies that are doing well clearly made an effort,” said Mandala. “American Airlines has a huge outreach, and the numbers show that.”
from The Chicago Tribune

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