Greater Fort Lauderdale has come a long way since officially rolling out the rainbow carpet to gay and lesbian travelers in 1996.
Back then tourism officials spent $35,000 on gay marketing.
Today that marketing budget is about $750,000 and is aimed at building Greater Fort Lauderdale's reputation as a top choice for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) travelers.
"Greater Fort Lauderdale is recognized as Florida's largest and most popular diverse gay capital with the largest resident lesbian and gay community and the most gay-owned and operated businesses in the state," Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau President Nicki E. Grossman told attendees at an LGBT tourism conference Thursday. "We're the No. 1 LGBT resort destination in the U.S. and 8th-most-popular American LGBT destination."
In 2013, Broward County will welcome approximately 1.3 million LGBT travelers spending $1.48 billion in area restaurants, hotels, attractions and shops, according to the tourism bureau. That compares to 13.1 million visitors overall spending $10 billion.
"LGBT marketing makes sense economically and for us it also makes Greater Fort Lauderdale a far more interesting place to visit for everyone," Grossman said.
Among the area hotels that benefit from LGBT travelers' dollars is the Westin Fort Lauderdale Beach Resort & Spa, host hotel for the Community Marketing & Insights 14th Conference on LGBT Tourism and Hospitality that kicked off Wednesday and runs though Friday.
"We have been long-term supporters of the LGBT community, and we value this opportunity to… showcase Fort Lauderdale beach and make it a top destination for this flourishing market," General Manager Amaury Piedra said.
Some 200 participants are attending the conference that's convening in Fort Lauderdale for the second time.
"Fort Lauderdale has been so supportive of the LGBT community for so many years and we like to go to cities that support us," said David Paisley, senior research director at CMI, a San Francisco-based specialty marketing and research firm.
Others say the destination's LGBT success is partly due to growing gay populations in cities such as Fort Lauderdale and Wilton Manors.
"[These cities] are some of the few places left that have a feeling of community for LGBT travelers," said Billy Kolber, founder of gay travel publication ManAboutWorld, which recently named Wilton Manors "Gayborhood of the Year" in its 2013 Editors' Choice Awards.
To help retain and build on its LGBT success, last year the Broward County tourism agency took the step to hire staff and launch a department dedicated to the specialty market, which is heading by a veteran consultant on gay marketing.
"All the destinations are pecking at our heels, so we're constantly pushing the envelope," said Richard Gray, LGBT managing director for the CVB. "We have to stay ahead of the curve."
And for Gray that includes finding creative and different ways to attract LGBT travelers, such as the CVB's new pink Gaydar button that recites a series of fun sayings when pushed. This promotional gadget will be given out at trade events in 2014, Gray said.
Next year, the CVB is also aiming to attract a younger demographic (30- to 40-year-olds) of LGBT travelers.
To help accomplish this, the tourism bureau is continuing to integrate its LGBT messaging into its mainstream Hello Sunny marketing events such as its upcoming "We've got you covered" road shows in Chicago in February, Washington, D.C., in March and São Paulo, Brazil, in April.
This integrated approach has "much bigger and broader reach," Gray noted.
The CVB will also participate for the second year in the annual Gay Pride March in New York, with its Beach Mobile on parade, and representatives distributing "Hello Sunny" rainbow glasses.
At this year's march, more than 5,000 of the signature glasses were given out to attendees in less than two hours. There are plans to double that amount in 2014.
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