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Gaming Guru

Laura Carroll

Las Vegas tourism officials embracing value of LGBT dollars

10 September 2012

LAS VEGAS -- At the Bagatelle Beach Club, DJ Roland Belmares spins a song while young people dance their Friday away. Cocktails flow as servers walk the area, ensuring no glass is empty.

It's just another pool party in Las Vegas, ladies and gentlemen. Or is it?

This weekend, thousands of gay and lesbian visitors will gather in Las Vegas to celebrate at the Pride Las Vegas parade, festival and satellite events. Many of those tourists can be found at the Tropicana, home of Gay Days Las Vegas.

Gay tourism is on the rise in the city, propelled by word of mouth, new programming and targeted efforts by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

For its part, the travel board creates dedicated advertising campaigns aimed at the LGBT community that appear in gay media publications such as Curve and Out. A recent one features a stereotypical male-female couple standing in the middle of an all-male pool party under the phrase "Everyone's welcome, even straight people."

Kevin Bagger, senior director of marketing for the authority, said that in terms of popular gay tourist destinations, New York tops the list, while Las Vegas and San Francisco are tied for second.

"It is important to the LGBT market that the market they visit is welcoming and authentically so," Bagger said. "You have to do more than just have a rainbow-colored logo."

With the Pride Las Vegas festival from noon to 10 p.m. today at the Clark County Government Center Amphitheater, the first Gay Days Las Vegas will be held at the Tropicana through Monday.

Chris Alexander-Manley, president of Gay Days, said his first impression of Las Vegas is that of a very gay-friendly city. For the past two decades, he has hosted Gay Days Orlando.

"The government and community has been more welcoming than Orlando ever has been in the last 22 years," he said.

The event's first sponsor in Las Vegas was the travel authority, something that wasn't lost on Alexander-Manley.

"It was very significant," he said. "It was good to see that the head agency that promotes tourism in the Vegas area wanted us here."

On its website, the convention authority hosts a specific gay travel page that keeps tourists up to date on the latest events in which the LGBT traveler may be interested.

Going forward, the authority plans to continue with its advertising campaign and collaborate with existing events while working to attract new ones.

"It's a very attractive market," Bagger said. "They have higher spending propensity, and we have a product that resonates with them."

Fred Harmon, vice president of corporate culture and image relations at the Tropicana, concurred. Harmon referred to the LGBT community as often having double incomes but no kids, which translates to more expendable income.

Bagger agreed.

"There are various sources that suggest that anecdotally, they tend to spend more on travel in general," he said.

Because sexual orientation is irrelevant to most any travel survey, the authority doesn't have specific numbers on changes in LGBT visitor volume over the years.

Bagger said, though, that the number of LGBT-targeted events has increased, which leads to the conclusion that the number of LGBT travelers has, too.

"Hotels have readily embraced that segment and built events around them," Bagger said.

Events such as MGM Resorts International's Fabulous, held July 12-15, and the Tropicana's Gay Days, which includes pool parties, nightclub outings, an expo and poker tournament.

Alexander-Manley, the Orlando Gay Days host, said he never gave much thought to Las Vegas before now.

"I had never been to Vegas until two years ago because I don't gamble and in my naivety thought that was all it was about," he said.

After visiting, he was impressed by the city's other offerings and changed his mind. Alexander-Manley has signed a three-year hosting deal with the Tropicana and is expecting 30,000-40,000 people this year, with an estimated economic impact of about $100 million.

At the Gay Days expo, Sin City Shootout has a booth promoting its 12-sport LGBT winter sports festival scheduled for Jan. 17-20. Tournament director Eric Ryan is expecting more than 6,000 athletes to compete. Since 2008, its first year in Las Vegas, Ryan has seen attendance grow from 100 in 2008 to 800 in 2013.

"It just kind of snowballed," Ryan said. "The city itself is a draw. I mean, it's Las Vegas."

In the past, Ryan has worked with the Tuscany but is moving his event's home base to the Tropicana in 2013, marking the beginning of a three-year contract with the property.

"From a marketing perspective, the best marketing tool we have is the LGBT community itself," Harmon said.

LGBT business has increased at the Tropicana the past couple of years, Harmon said, but "significantly" so in the past year. In 2011, the hotel was recognized by as one of 2011's 25 hottest hotels, which helped matters greatly.

"It brought the Tropicana to the forefront," Harmon said. "It's just a chain reaction. More and more, the Tropicana hotel has been marketed by these gay organizations, and it's put our name out there. It's been fantastic for us."

The property also added an LGBT landing page to its website to help advertise it as a gay-friendly spot.

Harmon said it's the right move because LGBT events are on the rise in Las Vegas overall.

"It's funny how far it's come in the last five years," Harmon said.