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Area not hot with gay tourists

Early edition: Marketing officials are hesitant to target the prosperous market segment.

Published December 6, 2006


Gay and lesbian travelers in the United States consider the Sunshine State a safe and welcoming place to visit. As long as they’re talking about South Florida.

Key West and the Florida Keys ranked as the second-most gay-friendly destination in the nation after San Francisco, according to a national travel survey released Wednesday.

Miami and Ft. Lauderdale also scored high. But Tampa and cities outside South Florida lagged far behind. Only one in 10 people surveyed called Tampa gay-friendly.

Travel-related companies and many tourist destinations are targeting 16-million gay adults, who have $641-billion in cash to spend after taxes, say Witeck-Combs Communications and Harris Interactive, which co-sponsored the survey.

Pinellas County will launch an advertising campaign targeting gay tourists this winter. But after objections from some public officials, marketers decided not to promote Pinellas in ads as “gay-friendly.”

The online survey conducted for the Travel Industry Association in September asked about 2,000 gays how they shopped for vacations.

Nearly half said it’s important that a destination is gay-friendly. Most defined that as a safe place where they could hold a partner’s hand in public without harassment or threats of violence.

“Gay-friendliness is frequently mentioned as a litmus test,” said Bob Witeck of Witeck-Combs Communications.

“They are not looking for special treatment … but consideration and equal respect given to all customers.”

The survey also asked which of 59 cities, including seven in Florida, participants considered gay-friendly.

Fifty-seven percent said they felt comfortable visiting Key West and the Florida Keys. Miami came in seventh, with Fort Lauderdale, Palm Beach, Orlando, Tampa and Jacksonville further down the list.

“The top four all have had aggressive marketing programs for some time to the gay and lesbian market,” said Carole Ketterhagen, executive director of the St. Petersburg/Clearwater Area Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Tampa’s tourism marketing agency has never bought advertising or gone to trade shows to attract gay visitors. Last year, the city drew the ire of activists nationally when the Hillsborough County Commission voted to ban government recognition of gay pride events.

Pinellas is preparing its first advertising campaign to promote the county in gay-oriented Web sites and publications. The ads will use the county’s vanilla “Florida’s Beach” campaign and not portray gay couples “at this time,” said Ketterhagen.

Tourism markets are increasingly moving into “niche marketing” with messages tailored to specific audiences.
Mass marketing often doesn’t appeal to any demographic, rich or middle class, African-Americans or Hispanics, said Barry Pitegoff, research director for Visit Florida, the state tourism marketing agency.

“Like Wayne Gretsky said — we like to skate where the puck’s going to be,” he said.

Steve Huettel can be reached at or (813) 226-3384.

[Last modified December 6, 2006, 20:25:03]

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