If only it can find the will to do so, this little mountain hamlet is perfectly poised to take advantage of the great big gay/lesbian travel market.
The Domestic Partnership Registry gave the town millions of dollars worth of free and mostly-positive publicity. Now millions of prospective tourists–gay and straight–all over the country know for the first time that a progressive resort destination exists in Northwest Arkansas.
To give credit where credit is due, the Rev. Philip Wilson’s christening of the town as “the most homosexual city in the South,” didn’t hurt, either.
Also, though still in its embryonic stage, the new Eureka Springs Gay Business Guild signals a new willingness among dozens of gay and gay-friendly businesses to pool their resources and energies to go after the lucrative gay travel market–estimated at $55 to $64 billion annually. The guild’s insistence on being recognized as an “affinity” group within the Mayor’s new tourism task force shows that it means business.
With a little more effort, Eureka Springs could make gay tourism one facet of the “mosaic” of tourism the mayor, city council and business leaders say they are striving for.
With it’s well-earned reputation as a diverse and gay-friendly destination, Eureka Springs is already well equipped to compete in the gay travel arena. But it needs to get moving and fast because competition is heating up. And it’s not just Provincetown, Key West or Palm Springs. Such unlikely places as Bloomington, IN and Minneapolis, MN are jumping on the gay travel bandwagon.
The Tempe, AZ Convention and Visitors Bureau has been marketing to the gay community for three years now. Phoenix has just launched a campaign developed with the greater Phoenix Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce. In Dallas, a gay tourism campaign is already in high gear.
Philadelphia’s gay-positive marketing campaign (“Get Your History Straight and Your Nightlife Gay”), has brought millions of dollars to the city’s economy.
In California, San Diego, Palm Springs and West Hollywood have teamed up to form GoGaySoCal. The objective is to promote the three cities as “a LGBT triangle in Southern California” where tourists can hop between each city on one extended holiday.”
Washington, D.C., Miami, Tucson, New Orleans and Vancouver and Toronto, Canada are all trying to lure gay travelers.
John D’Alessandro, past president of the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association (yes, there is such a thing) told the Dallas Voice that “with the advent of the Internet it has become much easier for destinations never before thought of as gay-friendly or as gay hot spots to market to gay travelers.”
Just weeks ago, Toronto launched an ad campaign aimed at making the city a top destination for gay travelers from the U.S. It will, says ctv.ca “include ads in gay restaurants, bars and local publications, as well as event sponsorships and other promotional activities.”
Says Bruce MacDonald of the Canadian Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, Toronto (just like Eureka Springs) “has things to offer all year round–we’ve got a number of festivals . . . that we can market.” Tourism Toronto also established a new group to help with gay marketing that includes more than a dozen local community leaders.
Even San Francisco, nominally the gayest city in the country, is redoubling its gay marketing efforts. “It is,” says ebar.com, a struggle “in which municipalities from coast to coast . . . have been engaged in for some time as convention and visitors bureaus realize the gay tourist market is a lucrative fix for city coffers.”
Echoing a sentiment often heard in Eureka Springs, “the San Francisco (ad) campaign features the tagline “Only in San Francisco” and plays off the city’s diversity in both residents and attractions.
“The print campaign will last three months and is costing $100,000, raised mostly from partnerships with companies in the travel industry,including hotels, Amtrak and Southwest Airlines. “Though people love Tony Bennett,” said a spokesman, “we need to advertise a new, hipper San Francisco.”
The new gay-focused campaign “comes after years of complaints from gay civic and business leaders that the city was letting other areas siphon off gay visitors.”
According to recent research, gay travelers:
- Travel more frequently–98 percent have taken at least one overnight trip in the last 12 months, compared with 72 percent for heterosexual Americans.
- Stay longer–an average of 15 nights in a hotel last year, compared with an average of about three nights for all U.S. travelers.
- Spend more. Gay men spent $800 on average per trip, compared to $540 by non-gay travelers.
- Are more likely to be passport holders.
- Travel throughout the year. With an average household income of $85,000 and an average age of 44, this market tends to travel on whim, not just during peak seasons.
Marketing to the gay travel market is a kind of backdoor way of marketing to the mainstream heterosexual market at the same time. After all, gays and lesbians have straight families and friends. Last weekend’s Diversity Weekend demonstrated that both gays and straights, liberals and conservatives, young and old, child-free couples and entire families (including the household dog or pot-bellied pig) can socialize and celebrate in unison when the conditions are right.
The prospect of Eureka Springs becoming a “gay mecca,” a place the relies predominantly on gay tourists, is slim to none. Not even Key West, Palm Springs or Provincetown has done that. Tourism in those “meccas” continues to be dominated by straight vacationers.
Keep in mind that “target marketing” means that ads for gay tourists appear in predominantly gay publications and on gay web sites, not in mainstream publications. It’s not as if the city is branding itself a “gay mecca” via all of its advertising and promotion.
But if Eureka Springs continues to ignore the gay market and cave in to pressure from social conservatives and religious extremists, it will do so at its own peril. A community known for its inherent diversity should–and can–do better.