Where's the slogan?
Other cities are marketing themselves to gay tourists. But Boston isn't. Should it?
In Fort Lauderdale, gay and lesbian tourists spent $700 million last year. Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., are fighting for a share of the market, while Newport, R.I., and even Milwaukee, have plans to get in on the action.
More and more, cities across the country -- looking for that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow --are courting gay vacationers.
But at a time when Massachusetts has gained attention among gays nationwide for its judiciary's stance on same-sex marriage and when plans are being laid in Provincetown to warmly welcome gay couples seeking to tie the knot, tourism officials in Boston are shying away from any attempt to cash in.
One of the officials who would head such an effort has expressed fear of a backlash, angering two gay legislators who said encouraging such tourism is a matter of business, not politics.
Larry Meehan, director of public relations and tourism for the Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau, in Copley Place, said the bureau focuses its marketing dollars on nearby states, not any particular segment of the population. He said he feared negative reaction if such a campaign were launched.
"I don't want to offend someone who may be considering a trip to Boston," he said. US Representative Barney Frank blasted Meehan's position. "By now," said Frank, "most people know that homosexuality is not infectious." Boston -- especially as a gateway to Provincetown -- stands to profit from marketing itself to gay and lesbian tourists, he said.
State Senator Jarrett Barrios said he was "perplexed" by Meehan's fears, saying they stood in the way of the bringing of the green.
"It's about the Benjamins," he said. "I think it's bizarre that a tourism official who's in the business of bringing tourists here would have a moment's hesitation in doing their job," he said.
Yet Meehan, the tourism official, is not alone in his qualms about wooing gay tourists at a time when Massachusetts is garnering national interest -- and controversy -- after the state Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage as of May 17. The president of Boston's gay and lesbian chamber of commerce -- the Greater Boston Business Council -- said he'd like Boston to launch a campaign to attract gay and lesbian tourists, but he, too, worries about a backlash.
"Right now, today, might not be the best time [to launch a campaign]," said Anthony Danielus. "You don't want conservatives to launch a boycott."
Ron Crews, spokesman for the Coalition for Marriage, which opposes same-sex marriage, said fears of a backlash are well-founded. "Many concerned families would not want to visit [a city] where there would be public displays of homosexual behavior," he said. If a gay-friendly marketing campaign were launched in Boston, Crews said, a boycott would be likely. "If we didn't do it [launch a boycott], I believe some other organization would step up to the plate," he said.
The man in charge of marketing the state of Massachusetts said he has no such fears. Backlash? "Goodness gracious, no," said Paul Sacco, executive director of the state tourism office. His much more immediate problem, he said, is decreased funding. The state tourism budget is $6 million this year, down from $10 million last year.
Those who push gay marketing campaigns point to the demographics of the gay travel market as a kind of fiscal holy grail. According to a gay and lesbian market research firm, 97 percent of the 3,200 US gay and lesbian consumers surveyed recently said they took a vacation in the past year. That's much higher than the general population -- only 64 percent of all Americans did so, said Thomas Roth, president of Community Marketing Inc. in San Francisco. In addition, he said, three-quarters of the gay and lesbian consumers in that survey have household incomes above the national average of $40,000.
'Boston left behind'
Rob Tosner, executive director of the Provincetown Business Guild, said the guild has found it pays to woo gay and lesbian tourists.
"Boston," he said, "is being left behind."
Besides financial considerations, Massachusetts has been such a leader in expanding gay rights, said Sue Hyde, director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force's annual conference, that a campaign to attract gay tourists would be fitting.
Ten years ago, as a member of the Cambridge Lavender Alliance, she helped develop the slogan: "Cambridge, It's always been a little queer."
Robyn Thieringer, who markets Cambridge to tourists, liked the tag but said her budget is so small that a slogan -- such as her agency's "Boston's Left Bank" -- needs to be all-encompassing.
"Otherwise, we'd need a slogan for each different faction," said the executive director of the nonprofit Cambridge Office for Tourism.
Hyde had suggestions for Boston, too: "Not Banned in Boston," "Boston Marriages: Invented Here," or "Boston, cradle of gay revolution."
Seth Gitell, spokesman for Mayor Thomas M. Menino, said such a marketing campaign may be superfluous in Boston. "Mayor Menino is proud of the reputation Boston enjoys as a beacon to tourists, including gay and lesbian tourists. We are a welcoming city."
Michael Bronski, a gay writer and cultural critic, has another thought: an ad campaign featuring a photograph of drag queens in Boston with Abigail Adams' famous quote, "Remember the ladies . . . " superimposed on it.
Take your history straight?
Doctored historic images are key to the $900,000 gay and lesbian marketing campaign Philadelphia launched in November. In the ads, Benjamin Franklin flies a rainbow kite and Betsy Ross's American flag sports a rainbow stripe. So many people have asked Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corp. for reproductions of the ads that the nonprofit is considering producing posters, said spokesman Jeff Guaracino.
Complaints about the ad campaign -- with the slogan "Get your history straight and your nightlife gay" -- have been minimal, he said. Since the November launch, the nonprofit has tallied 21 positive and 16 negative phone calls, e-mails, and letters to the editor in the local newspaper, he said. Visits to the gay part of its website have jumped from fewer than 900 a month last year to 15,000 a month this year.
The Washington, D.C., Convention and Tourism Corp. launched its gay marketing campaign last year with the slogan, "Celebrate the freedom to be." Now it is competing with the city of Melbourne, Australia, to host the annual conference of the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association in 2006. "That would bring 250 to 300 top travel decision-makers to D.C.," said Victoria Isley, corporation spokeswoman.
Neither Philadelphia nor Washington, D.C., knows if their campaigns have increased gay tourism.
But tourism officials in Fort Lauderdale,which has been "Rolling out the rainbow carpet" since 1996, like their numbers. Last year about 7 percent, or $200,000, of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau's $3 million advertising budget was aimed at gay tourists. Meanwhile, gay tourists last year accounted for about 13 percent, or $700 million, of the $5.3 billion tourists spent in Fort Lauderdale, said Nicki E. Grossman, the bureau president.
It was harder coping with rowdy college students on spring break than getting businesses to back the gay marketing initiative when it was launched eight years ago, she said.
On board at Newport
Closer to home, Newport, R.I., is jumping on the bandwagon. By May, the gay-friendly Newport Business Council will publish a visitors guide for gay and lesbian tourists, said Federico Santi, council chairman. The council's logo sets a pineapple, a sign of welcome dating back to Colonial America, against a rainbow flag.
"Everyone knows that last year was a very tough summer [for tourism]," said Santi. "If you tell people that there is a chance to increase their business by 10 to 15 percent, they're all for it."
The Greater Milwaukee Convention & Visitors Bureau also is developing a brochure for gay and lesbian tourists.
Among the cities already marketing themselves to gay and lesbian tourists are Miami, West Hollywood, San Diego, and San Francisco. Gay-friendly websites and brochures are the vehicles of choice.
The Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau promotes the gogaymiami.com website launched by the Miami-Dade Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce. Next month the West Hollywood Convention & Visitors Bureau plans to spin off the gay-friendly information on its website to a new site, gogaywesthollywood.com.
A brochure for gay tourists put out by the San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau is headlined "Come out and be yourself." San Francisco's latest gay-oriented adurges "Make a commitment."
Laurie Armstrong, spokeswoman for the San Francisco Convention & Visitors Bureau, said the bureau does little niche marketing other than advertising on two gay websites. It doesn't have to.
"San Francisco has been a gay destination since the Gold Rush," she said.
Jan Gardner can be reached at email@example.com.