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New York City wooing gay and lesbian tourists

/ Source: The Associated Press

New York City officials are turning to gays and lesbians to help reduce a projected $4 billion budget deficit.

The nation’s largest city unveiled a marketing campaign Tuesday to attract more gay and lesbian tourists from around the country and the world as other U.S. cities compete to strip New York of its title of No. 1 vacation destination for gays and lesbians.

The Rainbow Pilgrimage campaign comes as state and city officials grapple with diminishing revenue resulting from the global economic meltdown, which is forcing many people to forgo leisure travel plans or take so-called staycations near home.

The campaign kickoff also comes months in advance of the June 40th anniversary of the Stonewall riots in Manhattan, considered the start of the modern gay liberation movement.

“This is a tough time for New York City’s budget,” said openly gay City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who made the announcement with Council Member Rosie Mendez and city tourism officials. Quinn noted that 20 percent to 25 percent of the city’s revenue comes from Wall Street, which remains in turmoil.

An estimated 47 million people visited the city last year, a record high that generated $30 billion in spending, also a record over 2007’s $28.9 billion, according to the mayor’s office. Gays and lesbians accounted for about 10 percent of those figures.

But state officials are predicting a decline this year in the city’s tourism industry.

The new campaign will highlight New York’s reputation as a gay-friendly travel destination and tout a visit to the city as a “rite of passage.” The campaign will include advertising on niche Web sites and in magazines, as well as bus stop shelters, utility poles, street furniture, telephone kiosks and railroad stations.

The NYC & Company nonprofit that handles marketing and tourism for the city is working with and numerous hotels, restaurants and Broadway theaters to offer discounts. George Fertitta, the organization’s chief executive, said the announcement was made months before the Stonewall anniversary in late June to give potential tourists time to make plans.

NYC & Company spent $190,000 in city taxpayer money on the campaign but estimates that, through partnerships with advertising agencies, its value reaches nearly $2 million.

Overall, New York City remains the top leisure and business travel destination for gays and lesbians followed closely by Las Vegas and San Francisco, said David Paisley, a senior projects manager at Community Marketing Inc., a tourism research company that specializes in gay and lesbian consumers.

“There’s increasing competition from cities who are reaching out to gays and lesbians,” Paisley said. “New York needs to respond or it’ll lose the No. 1 position.”

The annual economic impact of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender travelers is about $70.3 billion in the United States, according to Community Marketing.

“It clearly is a market that has the flexibility to travel,” Fertitta said.