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Gay Travel

Retaining San Francisco’s Visitor Visibility

Every June thousands of people descend upon San Francisco for a celebration that is entirely San Franciscan in its origin. For more than 35 years now, the San Francisco Pride celebration has been the hallmark of the LGBTQ community calendar and since its inception has branded our city as the LGBTQ capital of, if not the world, at least the Western Hemisphere.

As such, the idea of a gay-friendly, niche marketing campaign aimed at the LGBTQ traveler should have seemed rather intuitive. Surprisingly enough, however, until the launch of the San Francisco Convention and Visitors Bureau’s (SFCVB) “Gay Travel” micro-site last month, this pool had remained largely untapped.

When considering the fact that, in spite of its reputation as the #1 gay-friendly city in the world, San Francisco only ranks third among major city leisure destinations in the country for LGBTQ travelers, the need for a campaign to openly target and capture this lucrative niche market became apparent. The SFCVB and its president & CEO, Joe D’Alessandro, decided to design a campaign to counteract this and other growing threats to the viability of our city’s status as the top destination for the LGBTQ community.

After commissioning Community Marketing, Inc. to examine the travel and consumer habits of LGBTQ visitors, what they discovered was that on average, the LGBTQ visitor spends 23% more than his/her mainstream counterpart. To put this into further perspective couple it with the fact that the LGBTQ travel market spends roughly $55 billion each year. The urgency of devising a method to both recapture and build on this market has become not only a matter of national standing but more importantly a local and community agenda.

As visitor interest wanes, it’s not just the SF Pride celebration that takes a hit. Quite literally, San Francisco pride and its cultural history are at stake. D’Alessandro remarks, “This is a vital and ever-growing market for us and it’s important to remind gay and lesbian travelers of all there is to experience in San Francisco.” The mission of the micro-site on is to safeguard the perpetuity and longevity of San Francisco as a desirable vacation spot by providing the LGBTQ traveler with a one-stop showcase for everything that San Francisco has to offer. In addition to listings for gay-friendly hotels, restaurants, activities and promotions, the web site presents a visitor newsletter that has information on LGBTQ events and businesses in the City.

David Paisley, Senior Project Manager of Community Marketing, Inc., recognizes that “San Francisco is known as the most gay friendly place probably in the world.” However, in the ten years or so since the emergence of heavy internet marketing and worldwide competition, other cities have taken a slice of what was once a market largely taken for granted. Known for so long as the Gay Mecca, San Francisco was relying on its name to draw visitors. In an effort to both take advantage of and to highlight this history, the micro-site cleverly features sections on SF gay icons and history where visitors can learn more about things like the Golden Gate Bridge, various Castro landmarks, the rainbow flag and our annual Pride Celebration.

An advertising and print campaign hits national and local publications in June, but the impact of the “Gay Travel” site has already benefited from exposure on social networking sites like In one week, site traffic skyrocketed from 400 visits to 1400 visits. It is an auspicious beginning to what will hopefully be a frequent portal into a distinctly San Franciscan way of life. Market research has proven that the LGBTQ traveler is more apt to visit neighborhoods like the Mission and the Haight in addition to the popular tourist sites. Therefore, strengthening LGBTQ travel to our city is important for all local communities.

The SFCVB’s desire to keep San Francisco’s richly unique history alive through active tourism is less an attempt to spark interest in our local LGBTQ community than it is to reinvigorate what should be intuitive to any SF resident and visitor. Rudyard Kipling once said, “San Francisco has only one drawback. ‘Tis hard to leave.”

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