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Here come the gay tourists

The election of Annise Parker as Mayor has put Houston on the map as a travel destination for gay groups.

Houston historically has not been a popular destination for gay and lesbian travelers, according to U.S. Travel Association data. Last month, independent of mayoral politics, the visitors bureau launched an online effort to reach out to them.

Regardless of whether Parker’s election boosts that effort directly, at the least it could help change the perception of Houston, according to a longtime tourism consultant. Houston drew international attention earlier this month when it became the largest U.S. city to elect an openly gay mayor.

It “makes Houston seem more tolerant and gay-friendly,” said David Paisley, senior program director of Community Marketing, a San Francisco-based marketing and consulting firm that works primarily with the gay and lesbian tourism industry.

Cities have been marketing themselves to gay and lesbian tourists for years now, since as the story notes they tend to travel more and spend more money at their destinations. Houston got a ton of free, positive publicity from Parker’s win, so now is as good a time as any to try to capitalize on that.

It’s too early to say how Parker as mayor will affect gay and lesbian travel to Houston, [Holly Clapham, vice president of marketing at the Convention and Visitors Bureau] said, but “her brand is now associated with our product.”

The reaction among many outsiders when they heard Parker was elected was, “‘Wow, this happened in Houston!’” Clapham said. “Certainly there is buzz and awareness out there.”

People won’t come here just because of her election, she said, “but this could open windows to them considering Houston.”

For those of us who think that most people will like Houston if they give it a try, that’s all you can ask for.

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2 Comments

  1. 'stina says:

    I think it’s funny that this campaign is just now getting attention. My brother is one of the “prominent gay Houstonians” in the campaign. I think they did the photo shoot in the late summer/early fall, and the site was launched in late October.

  2. Temple Houston says:

    “Houston historically has not been a popular destination for gay and lesbian travelers.” This statement is probably true if you are only looking at the period following the 1985 referendum and the collapse of the local economy in the 1980s. Prior to that, in the pre-AIDS 1970s, Houston was definitely a major destination for gay men. Of course, these travelers did not use travel agencies to get anywhere they went, so the U.S. Travel Association would not have records to reflect this. But at the time, young gay men went everywhere in the US, primarily a constantly moving stream from NYC to California and back. Houston was the place to stop between the coasts. Dallas and Chicago were not considered comparable to the attractions Houston could offer, i.e., lots of hot men. At the same time, the Midwest and smaller East Coast cities were losing gay men to Houston because it had jobs galore. At the time, there were whole colonies of gay people from Detroit, St. Louis, Baltimore, Buffalo, etc. in Houston. The result was a very visible influx of gay men that continued until the early 80s. Once the economy went sour, they moved on. First to Dallas, and then Florida.