Monday, July 18, 2011

BREAKING: Las Vegas Enters 21st Century, Markets to LGBTQ Tourists

I have been wondering for some time when the Las Vegas gaming/tourism powers that be would wake up and smell the lavender. I guess they're finally getting there.

Print ads, websites and YouTube spots tout the offerings of Wynn Las Vegas, Paris, Luxor, Mandalay Bay and several other Strip operators that have steadily increased their efforts to lure dollars that reflexively went to the traditionally open-minded resort destinations of Palm Springs, Key West, Miami Beach and Provincetown. The LVCVA produces suggestive ads—two women with shapely legs playing footsie, a pair of fit young men holding hands on a golf course as Wynn Las Vegas looms in the background. They’re alluring images at the start of what Wynn Las Vegas marketer Michael Weaver dubs the “post-gay consumer marketing world,” a period when ad agencies seek to reach individual customers with the promise of luxury, entertainment, good food and sensuality—a classic quartet of offerings on the modern-day Strip.

Las Vegas consistently ranks among the top business and leisure destinations for the 4,296 LGBT travelers surveyed by Community Marketing. New York, San Francisco and Las Vegas typically hold the top three spots, with lesbians between the ages of 18 and 54 choosing Las Vegas as their favorite getaway. Gay men widely preferred New York City and San Francisco. “Las Vegas is really show-driven and those shows have a very gay spin—Cher, Bette Midler, Cirque du Soleil, Elton John. It’s good for Las Vegas to bring them in,” says Community Marketing’s [David] Paisley.

“Las Vegas is its own animal. It’s true that Vegas doesn’t have its own gay neighborhood like other cities do,” Paisley says, “but from a tourism perspective, Las Vegas is about the Strip. Gays and lesbians are coming to Las Vegas for the same reason everyone is coming to Las Vegas.”

So LVCVA finally has a full LGBTQ travel site up, and other casinos and tourist attractions are catching up to what Caesars, Wynn, and MGM have been learning over the last decade.

Speaking as a gay person myself who follows what's happening on The Strip, I can tell you there's still far more work to be done to let queer folk feel comfortable enough to visit Las Vegas and visit more often. Even though I often walk blithely around my Henderson 'hood with an "I <3 Castro" or HRC t-shirt, many gay couples are still afraid to hold hands while walking Las Vegas Blvd. What's wrong with this picture? Unfortunately, part of the reason why many LGBTQ tourists still feel ambivalent about Vegas is because of the huge mistake Nevada embarked upon a decade ago when Question 2 passed and discrimination was written into the Nevada Constitution. And though we've now somewhat corrected the situation with domestic partnerships and long awaited progress on transgender civil rights, that's still far from full equality.

Another part of the problem is that until very recently, there was never really talk of a comprehensive plan to fully market Vegas as "THE gay travel destination". Even local business leaders recognize we have a problem. We are more than just nightclub revelers and kinky sex machines. We want to sleep, we want to eat, we want to shop, and we want to explore.

At least we're now seeing LVCVA make the effort. That's a big start, and we're now moving in the right direction. Now if we can only get rid of that pesky Question 2...

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