Gays and the local tourism industry

If you’ve ever seen The Apprentice, Donald Trump’s reality television show pitting business savvy individuals against one another with elaborate challenges, then you might have heard the term “target market” mentioned a couple of hundred times.

Market research companies go to great lengths to find out exactly who the people in a particular demographic are and then sell this information to companies and industries. The Indianapolis Rainbow Chamber of Commerce has aided at least one target market hunt by hosting a roundtable on bringing the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) dollar to the local tourism industry.

John Sobieralski, convention sales manager for the Indianapolis Convention and Visitors Association (CVA), seemed open to the idea. “It’s all about bringing the business. We will work with anyone,” said Sobieralski, who was also part of the roundtable.

If the buck is the bottom line for the Indianapolis CVA then they should pay attention to the estimated $65 billion spent on travel annually by the gay and lesbian community, according to the Travel Association of America.

The Bloomington Convention and Visitors Bureau has started paying attention in a big way. In the last year, Bloomington CVB launched the Web site visitgaybloomington.com and produced a sleek, shiny brochure that highlights gay attractions such as the PRIDE Film Festival, Miss Gay IU and Miss Gay Bloomington pageants, and gay bars, as well as “straight” attractions.

Bloomington’s CVB efforts attracted attention from Out Traveler and other national media outlets touting Bloomington as fifth in the country for same-sex-couple households per capita.

The Indianapolis Rainbow Chamber is wondering why Indianapolis, the 12th largest city in the U.S., has not tried to tap into a demographic which has a median household income of $87,500 and 96 percent of whom took at least one short leisure trip in the last year.

Sobieralski said that the Indianapolis CVA has not wooed this demographic because they don’t woo any particular demographic. They mainly advertise to convention and meeting planners through limited print ads, brochures and the association’s Web site. “Our unofficial motto is ‘Get a head in a bed,’” Sobieralski said, meaning getting visitors into hotel beds.

Los Angeles, San Francisco, Las Vegas and New York — top U.S. destinations for gay and lesbians according to Community Marketing — have been getting plenty of GLBT heads in their beds, and other cities are taking note.

According to Bloomington’s Rob DeCleene, Philadelphia’s Convention and Visitors Bureau has spent $1 million over the last three years on a campaign directed toward the gay and lesbian tourist market. Durham, N.C., contacted the Bloomington CVB, where DeCleene is a services manager, seeking consultation on tapping the gay market. Bloomington, Philadelphia, L.A., San Francisco, Las Vegas and New York are established gay-friendly cities that market this reputation rather than marketing to establish a reputation as a gay-friendly city, which would most likely come off as disingenuous.

So where does that leave Indianapolis? A “bring the gays tour de force” may be a bit shocking here. “We should start small and not go after something like bringing the Gay Games to Indianapolis right off the bat,” Sobieralski said.

The GLBT communities in Indianapolis have made small steps toward making Indianapolis a more gay-friendly city with organizations such as the Indianapolis Rainbow Chamber of Commerce, which serves as a voice for GLBT-owned businesses, and gayindy.org, which lists gay-friendly bars, restaurants, businesses, etc. For travel outside of Indianapolis, additional GLBT-oriented travel resources include the Travel Alternative Group (TAG) and the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association.

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