Official, private ventures woo LGBT market in London

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Male couple in LondonLondon is rolling out the red carpet for gay and lesbian travelers, with a new, self-described gay "tourist office" as well as intensified marketing efforts by official visitors' bureau Visit London aimed at wooing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender tourists.

The attraction is mutual: London is the most popular international destination among U.S. gay travelers, according to Community Marketing, San Francisco.

The LGBT Tourist Office, a private venture positioning itself as the first outlet in London dedicated to such visitors, opened Oct. 22 in a second-floor space above Ku Bar, a Soho gay bar. It was conceived as a reference and meeting point for both visitors and locals seeking LGBT information, said project manager Shaun Newport.

"It's as comprehensive as I have been able to imagine it," said Newport. "It's got something for everybody."

Patrons can obtain hotel, tourism, event, LGBT resources and organizations information; book theater tickets; reserve restaurant tables; and sign up for London tours, gay-themed and otherwise. The office also offers free Internet access, via four laptops.

Looking ahead, Newport said he has big plans; possible initiatives include discount city visitor passes for LGBT travelers and online booking functionality at the tourist office's website, www.gaytouristoffice.co.uk.

The LGBT Tourist Office is located at 30 Lisle St. near the Leicester Square Underground stop; hours are 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., daily.

For its part, Visit London is upping the ante in its longtime efforts to court LGBT travelers, according to Marketing Director Martine Ainsworth-Wells.

"This year we rolled out the 'Only in Gay London' campaign, an extension of our main campaign, to highlight the unique experiences that can be had in our city, from an LGBT perspective," she said.

The campaign included a "vigorous incursion in the social media space." Visit London maintains an LGBT website at www.visitlondon.com/people/gay. "We are continuing to look to new mobile technologies to make Visit London a one-stop destination for LGBT travelers," Ainsworth-Wells said.

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