Fort Lauderdale Conference Spotlights LGBT Travel

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LGBT tourism and travel are the focus of an international conference this week in Fort Lauderdale.

More than 200 industry leaders and representatives from convention bureaus, hotels and airlines around the world are registered for the 14th Annual LGBT Tourism and Hospitality Conference, Dec. 11-13, organized by Community Marketing  & Insights (CMI), a San Francisco-based marketing and research firm.

According to David Paisley, CMI Senior Research Director, the conference at the Westin Beach Resort & Spa on Fort Lauderdale Beach is one of the largest to focus on the strong LGBT market and will highlight industry trends, including mobile marketing, same-sex marriages and family travel.

Seminars include, “Mobile is SO Gay: Rules for LGBT Engagement,” “The Emerging Gay and Lesbian Wedding Market,” and “Family Vacation: The New Modern Family, Parent(s) Who Identify as LGBT and Their Children.”

The conference will also focus on emerging LGBT travel markets, including China. Liu Ping, CEO of Journey of Soul (of China Star), will present a program entitled, “Is China Ready for LGBT Travel?” Argentina, another country growing its LGBT market, is a sponsor of the conference.

One of the key benefits of the conference is the opportunity for participants to share success stories.

Explained Paisley: “It’s not unusual for competitors to really want to grow the market and make it successful for everyone. There will a lot of case studies.”

The tourism industry, in addition to liquor brands, pioneered outreach to the community more than two decades ago, recognizing the size and strength of the LGBT market and tapping billions of dollars of disposable income in the process.

Noting the longtime popularity of South Florida destinations, a workshop on creating LGBT visitor’s centers will include Steven Adkins, president of the Miami-Dade Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, which operates a visitor’s center in Miami Beach.

Thursday’s keynote luncheon speaker will be Nicki Grossman, president and CEO of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Said Richard Gray, a longtime Fort Lauderdale Beach gay hotelier who is now the only full-time employee of a convention and visitors bureau charged with focusing on the LGBT market, “Without any doubt Greater Fort Lauderdale is the #1 LGBT destination in the state of Florida. In fact, Greater Fort Lauderdale, per CMI, is the top male resort destination in the U.S. and the #8 LGBT destination for both business and leisure travelers in the U.S.”

He cited the abundance of LGBT guesthouses, bars and nightlife destinations and the Stonewall National Museum & Archives and new World AIDS Museum as key drivers of LGBT tourism to the county, in addition to the sunny beaches and warm winter climate.

During the conference, CMI will also announce the results of its 18th annual travel industry survey, noting steady growth in LGBT travel following the recession.

“We see an uptick in leisure travel in gay community, but there are still a lot of concerns about the economy. One of the concerns of the industry as a whole is a continued downtick in business travel. The recession really knocked business travel down and that is true in the LGBT segment as well,” Paisley said.

He noted that gay professionals and couples often use business travel as a pretense for longer leisure trips.

“During the recession, we weren’t going to Hawaii, Canada or Europe because of the high travel costs. There was definitely pent up demand,” Paisley said.

Younger travelers, aged 35-45, are also influencing trends, spiking interest in visits to urban areas like Chicago, New York City and Philadelphia.

“They are coming into their own financially and are interested in big cities, whereas older travelers tend to focus on warm weather destinations,” he added.

Many of the conference participants will be exhibiting at a LGBT Travel Expo organized by Steven Levenberg Productions on Saturday, Dec. 14 from 12 noon to 4 p.m. at the Westin Beach Resort & Spa. Admission is free. For more information, go to JW Arnold

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