SF Revamps LGBT Travel Pitch

by Matthew S. Bajko
Tuesday May 29, 2012

Five years after launching its first targeted campaign at LGBT tourists, San Francisco is revamping its pitch and urging them to "come out to SF. Waaaaay out."

The new advertising slogan will appear in advertisements in major cities along the West Coast. The campaign also touts more than just the city's gay Castro district as a reason why LGBT travelers should visit.

"San Francisco's gay district is called 'San Francisco,'" claim the ads, which are running in Los Angeles, San Diego, Seattle, and Portland. The new $500,000 12-month campaign will also be targeted at Phoenix residents.

The campaign is built around attracting new LGBT visitors and giving those people that have been to San Francisco a reason to come back. It is aimed at showcasing new stores and restaurants that have opened in the Castro as well as in other neighborhoods.

"With these campaigns we want to remind people to come to San Francisco outside of big event weekends. Something new and amazing can happen on any day or weekend," said Lynn Bruni, director of consumer marketing at the city's convention and visitors bureau, which changed its name last summer to San Francisco Travel.

In 2007 the city's LGBT tourism advertising debuted under the tagline "Only in San Francisco" and featured same-sex couples enjoying San Francisco sights.

The new tagline is "49 Hours of SF: Out and About." One print ad depicts a young man at an overlook photographing the Golden Gate Bridge off in the distance.

Banner ads online also highlight the bridge, which is turning 75 this year, and depict the gay section of Dolores Park.

Visitors who go to the website will find six different itineraries that highlight places not just in the Castro but locations in the Mission, Marina, Hayes Valley, and South of Market.

"LGBT travelers are not exclusively interested in the Castro. The Mission is very high on people's interest list," said Joe D'Alessandro, a gay man who is president and CEO of SF Travel.

The sextet of itineraries listed on the website are meant to feed certain interests. Groupings include suggestions for "the fabulous foodie," "the fashionista," or "the hardbody."

It ties in to the larger "SF in 49 hours" campaign SF Travel launched last summer in conjunction with its name change. It is meant to suggest the city is so chock-o-block with sights to see that visitors need an extra hour than the normal 48-hour weekend to experience it all.

"We went through a major rebranding last year of everything we do. We didn't rebrand our LGBT campaign at that point," said D'Alessandro. "It is time to launch the LGBT campaign set to the new tone and new brand."

With tourists making up a significant percentage of business at Castro stores and restaurants, at some places accounting for 50 percent or more of sales, business leaders in the city's gayborhood are increasingly focused on drawing in more visitors. For the second year in a row they are organizing an event for hotel concierges to show off the neighborhood and continue to produce a guide map distributed at various hotels around the city.

Richard Shiu with pet supply store Best in Show said having SF Travel market the city and the Castro to LGBT visitors is critical for the bottom line of many merchants.

"I think it can only help us," said Shiu, who is helping to organize the concierge visit June 5. "I wish we could do more."

The new ad campaign also has several social media components to it. Visitors can use the website to create their own itineraries that they can then share via Twitter or Facebook.

SF Travel has also teamed up with GayCities, a presenting sponsor of the new campaign, to roll out a competition in the month of June. The social media check-in challenge is being called "49 Places That Make Us Proud."

Tourists and locals can check-in on GayCities, Facebook, or Foursquare to a list of 49 places spread throughout the city for a chance to win prizes, including a trip back to San Francisco. (The prize can be used to have a friend visit if won by a city resident.)

Scott Gatz, the founder and CEO of GayCities, said the citywide promotion is a first for his company. It is modeled after a check-in competition it did at the 2010 Castro Street Fair.

"With this it is really about getting people to experience all of San Francisco," said Gatz. "If you check in at all 49 places you will have an amazing overview of the city."

Despite the claims made by some national gay publications that San Francisco's cachet as one of the country's "gayest cities" is waning, surveys of LGBT travelers tell otherwise. This year San Francisco rated as being the best Pride city in a GayCities survey.

"San Francisco is always at the top," Gatz said. "People love San Francisco."

In 2010 SF Travel for the first time asked about sexual orientation in a hotel visitor survey it conducted. Based on the results, the agency estimates that 5 percent of travelers to San Francisco are LGBT.

Last year the number of visitors to the city was up 3.5 percent for a total of about 18 million people.

But the city routinely competes with New York City and Las Vegas as the number one vacation destination for LGBT travelers. And it continues to face increased competition to attract LGBT visitors.

New York state is promoting itself as the place for same-sex couples looking to wed now that marriage equality is legal there.

Santa Fe, New Mexico launched its own effort to attract LGBT visitors this year. The southwest city's tourism bureau has been touting that its "extensive gay and lesbian population is in every part of the city, throughout every business district, and fully integrated into Santa Fe life."

It was seeing destinations like Philadelphia, Boston, and Miami spend money on LGBT-focused advertising that led gay business leaders in San Francisco to press the city's tourism boosters to follow suit. After years of assuming the country's "gay mecca" could take LGBT tourists for granted, the visitors bureau realized its lack of an LGBT campaign was taking a toll.

"We were losing market share to other destinations that were marketing directly to the community and San Francisco wasn't," said Bruni.

SF Travel is still hampered in what it can afford to do as its advertising budget is limited. Rather than do a one-time ad buy nationally, it is using its limited resources to focus solely on the West Coast.

"It allows us to target the LGBT community in places we know we get feeder markets for San Francisco," said Bruni.

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