GoGayMiami.com Campaign Draws Christian Coalition Ire

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Miami's new direct mail and Web marketing campaign to gay and lesbian travelers is drawing criticism from a coalition of religious and community groups.


In question are a new $25,000 brochure from the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau targeting gay and lesbian travelers and a Web site, GoGayMiami.com, sponsored by the Miami-Dade Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce.


The 20-page, 4-by-9-inch glossy brochure is titled "Gay & Lesbian Miami: Greater Miami and the Beaches." Inside, the theme is: "Come see why Greater Miami is truly the Gay Riviera." Several dining, lodging and entertainment options are listed for travelers.


Launched in January, the Web site includes "Tourists and Locals," which features chamber members under the headings of "What to do," "Where to Stay," "Where to Eat" and "Business," which is a link to gaybizmiami.com. That site is designed for people who are looking for a job in Miami or are moving to the area.


Visitors to GoGayMiami also can use a Trip Builder tool on the site and save or print their "e-itinerary." Online maps, including details of various Miami neighborhoods, are provided, and visitors can e-mail the Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce to receive vacation-planning packages.


"When you look at the brochure, taxpayer dollars were used to promote sexual tourism. That's what people find objectionable: No one was asked, and it never has been done before in Dade County," said Anthony Verdugo, chairman of the Miami-Dade Christian Coalition, which is working with 400 religious, community and civic groups to repeal the county's gay rights ordinance.


This September, Dade County voters decide whether to repeal an amendment prohibiting discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodation based on sexual orientation. The 400 groups in favor of repealing the law are organized under a campaign called "Take Back Miami-Dade."


Representatives of the visitors bureau say the campaign is simply a small part of a $2.2 million marketing effort that began shortly after Sept. 11 to boost the city's tourism market.


The "What Makes You Happy?" campaign included ads in Conde Nast, Travel & Leisure, The New York Times and publications targeting gays, such as The Advocate and Genre. The campaign aimed to "remind people visually and through copy that this is a place that can help you reconnect and feel happy," instead of offering specific discounts on travel, said Rolando Aedo, vice president of marketing and tourism for the visitors bureau.


"We see marketing to the gay and lesbian market as we would see marketing to any niche market, whether that is the U.S. Hispanic market, the African-American market or the New York urbanite market," Aedo said. "This is purely based on a sales and marketing decision."


In addition, tourism experts in Miami and elsewhere say it is an ideal time to target gay and lesbian travelers because they have continued to travel post-Sept. 11 while travel by other demographic groups has declined.


Also, the gay and lesbian demographic reportedly has higher income and a greater propensity for travel: 66 percent take three or more vacations a year, said Thomas Roth, president of Community Marketing Inc., a San Francisco marketing and research firm specializing in the gay tourism market.


"If you're suffering from a decline in tourism, this is a really appropriate market to approach," he said. Gay travel represents a $54.1 billion market, he said.


However, Aedo said, the campaign was begun amid a political battle over Miami-Dade's gay rights ordinance, though it had been in the planning stages for a year.


Verdugo calls the marketing campaign "sexual tourism" because "we do not segment or target individuals based on their private sexual behavior, whether it be polygamy or bigamy, so why do we segment homosexual persons?


"Homosexual persons have always come to Miami Beach, and they did so without any 'sexual tourism,' " he said. "This is taking our community several steps back."


The concern over taxpayer money being spent on the promotions stems from the visitors bureau getting funding from food and beverage and resort taxes as well as members and private investors. Also, the Miami Beach Convention and Visitors Authority granted $15,000 to the Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce so it could develop GoGayMiami.com. The city of Miami Beach also contributed staff time to develop the brochure.


Meanwhile, the visitors bureau and the chamber have distributed hundreds of brochures at trade shows.


"Online [marketing] is real good, but you need to get people to know there is an online site," Roth said. "That's why the comprehensive campaign [in Miami] to reach out online as well as by print publications and by direct mail [is good]."


The visitors bureau will add the brochure to its advertising response packages for those who request it. Some 50,000 packages, which include a 200-page glossy vacation planner guide and hotel/attraction brochures, are mailed monthly. Travelers typically request the packages after seeing print, television or online ads.


About two-thirds of those requesting the packages also opt in for e-mail promotions, which are sent sporadically from the visitors bureau or its hotel partners.


Now, when GoGayMiami visitors request more information, the Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce forwards the request to the visitors bureau, which sends the same advertising response packages but with the brochure. Orders are fulfilled through rotating fulfillment houses, which are members of the bureau.


The bureau also has begun sending an e-newsletter to its 2,000 members.


"If that goes well, we're looking to expand that to consumers," Aedo said.


Meanwhile, the chamber will use the e-mail addresses collected on GoGayMiami to build an e-mail database. Already, a quarterly e-newsletter is sent to its 175 member companies, but the chamber wants to publish regular print and e-newsletters for consumers.


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