European tourist boards unite in effort to attract gay, lesbian visitors


NEW YORK -- First-ever publications designed to attract gay and lesbian visitors this year include brochures from Berlin Tourism Marketing, the Netherlands Board of Tourism and seven additional European tourist boards, all in cooperation with Community Marketing, a gay and lesbian travel consulting firm in San Francisco.

Results of a poll released in November 1999 by Community Marketing showed that 45% of 2,103 American gay and lesbian travelers surveyed had taken an international vacation in the previous 12 months and 78% held a valid passport, compared with the respective national averages of 9% and 29% (Travel Weekly, Oct. 25, 1999).

With participation from the nine European tourist boards, Community Marketing is spearheading a "Gay Capitals of Europe" campaign, which is being introduced with a 32-page direct-mail marketing guide to debut later this June.

The campaign also includes agent study tours, press trips, a Web site and print advertising.

The tourist boards of France, Denmark/Sweden, Finland, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Vienna, Barcelona, Berlin and Hamburg, Germany have signed on to the "Gay Capitals of Europe" campaign.

"[The campaign] has become a catalyst for a lot of European destinations that on their own probably don't have the budget to reach the gay and lesbian community," said Thomas Roth, president of Community Marketing.

Community Marketing is also working with the tourist boards on gay-friendly training for hotels and suppliers.

"In the case of European destinations," Roth said, "it's not as much sensitivity training as it is knowing the preferences of gay and lesbian travelers."

Roth said that one of the most important distinctions of gay and lesbian travelers from their mainstream counterparts is that they "almost as a priority want to meet local gay and lesbian people."

Referring to the survey, 89% of gay and lesbian travelers indicated that visiting a gay community or experiencing gay life at a destination is either somewhat or very important when traveling.

Several tourist boards involved in the "Gay Capitals" campaign already have gay and lesbian marketing programs of their own, including the Netherlands, which said it was the first to launch such a campaign in 1992; France, which introduced its first gay-friendly brochure in August 1999 and subsequently launched a gay marketing campaign, and Berlin, which recently introduced a six-panel flyer for the U.S. market and provides extensive information for gays and lesbians on its Web site,

The Netherlands Board of Tourism (NBT) will be printing 15,000 copies of its first gay and lesbian guide this summer and will follow through with its next advertising campaign targeting the East Coast in late fall, according to Nico Zenner, marketing and public relations director for North America of the NBT, New York.

The 20-page guide focuses on Amsterdam and was developed in partnership with the magazine Out and About, Zenner said. He added that a toll-free line for gay and lesbian travelers, (888) GAY-DUTCH, has been in place since the fifth Gay Games were held in Amsterdam in 1998.

"There's a sense of belonging for gays and lesbians in Dutch society in general and Amsterdam in particular," Zenner said, noting that gays and lesbians in the Netherlands received the right to marry in the early 1990s.

As for Berlin Tourism Marketing (BTM), which printed 10,000 copies of its gay and lesbian flyer for distribution at travel fairs such as the recent Gay World Travel Expo in New York, a BTM spokeswoman noted that Berlin offers three distinct gay scenes in separate neighborhoods, including a Turkish gay scene in Kreuzberg.

For those reasons as well as its several gay-friendly festivals, such as the Love Parade, which attracted 1.5 million people in 1999, and the annual gay pride Christopher Street Day festival, expected to draw 400,000 this year, the gay market is the first niche group to receive the BTM's special attention.

In contrast to Berlin's long gay history, Vienna has become openly aware of gays and lesbians "more or less in the last several years," said Thomas Birer, marketing manager for the Austrian National Tourist Office, New York.

"I started working on this market two years ago," Birer said, "and at that time it was unthinkable to have a brochure."

In addition to Vienna's participation in the "Gay Capitals" campaign, the tourist offices of Austria and Vienna worked with Austrian Holidays, Austrian Airlines and five city hotels to produce the Vienna Goes Gay brochure, which will be distributed later this June at the International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association convention in San Francisco.

Discussing the travel trade's openness to the gay niche, Roth said, "We feel the issue is not how many [agents] are 'gay' but how many position themselves as 'gay-friendly,' and we estimate this number to be about 3,000.

"The vast majority are not gay, but have earned the gay community's business by being informed, sensitive and genuinely involved in the gay community."

Community Marketing
Phone: (415) 437-3800
Fax: (415) 552-5104
E-mail: [email protected]

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