Wednesday, June 1, 2011
Gay Days: Las Vegas here we come!
By Sara K. Clarke via: Orlando Sentinel
Throngs of gay and lesbian tourists arrive in Orlando next week for their annual Gay Days celebration at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom, but starting next year, those travelers will have a second option come summer's end: Las Vegas.
The organizers of Orlando's Gay Days said this week they're expanding and will host a Gay Days Las Vegas starting in September 2012. The event is designed to complement the annual expo and party in Orlando.
"When we decided to start researching Vegas, … the feedback was just tremendous," said Chris Alexander-Manley, president of Gay Days Inc., who noted the expansion will coincide with Gay Days 21st anniversary. "We say, 'We're 21, we're legal, we're going to Las Vegas.'"
Gay Days, based in Gotha, started in 1991 when about 3,000 members of the gay community wearing red gathered at the Magic Kingdom on a Saturday in June. This year, the group is expecting 160,000 people to attend what has grown into a weeklong series of events that includes theme-parks visits, pool parties and a travel-retail exposition.
"Gay Days has done a phenomenal job of putting Orlando on the gay map," said Thomas Roth, president of Community Marketing Inc., a San Francisco market-research company. "It's really the main catalyst for gays and lesbians to travel to Orlando at all."
Starting next year, Gay Days Inc. is hoping to replicate that experience at the Rio Las Vegas Hotel & Casino, where it has signed a three-year contract.
Las Vegas is a natural extension of the Orlando event, according to Roth. It's already No. 2 on the list of most-visited leisure destinations for gay and lesbian travelers, tied with San Francisco. Orlando, not known for courting the gay-travel market, ranks ninth, according to the 15th Annual Gay & Lesbian Tourism Study by Community Marketing Inc.
Despite the glittering lights and over-the-top entertainment for which Las Vegas is famous, Gay Days organizers don't appear worried about cannibalizing their Orlando event. Instead, they expect the new gathering to appeal to those who haven't been interested in experiencing Central Florida's theme parks.
"Those that have never come to Gay Days Orlando because the attractions are not a draw for them, now they have adult entertainment," Alexander-Manley said.
Roth agrees, saying the Las Vegas event is a way to expose more people to Gay Days generally.
"We are such frequent travelers, and events are often a reason for why we travel," Roth said. "All they're doing is expanding the market, and not taking smaller slices out of the same pie."
For now, Orlando retains its Gay Days monopoly. Organizers expect attendance overall to be up by about 10,000 people compared with a year ago. June 4 is scheduled as the day participants will converge on the Magic Kingdom.
The event also has gained a well-known sponsor: Cirque du Soleil, the performing-arts group behind the show La Nouba in Downtown Disney. The company, which also has multiple shows in Las Vegas, joins attractions such as Blue Man Group and SeaWorld's Discovery Cove in signing on as event partners in recent years, after Orlando's mainstream tourist industry had long shied away from formally acknowledging the event.
Gay Days is also marking its second year at a new location on International Drive. Historically based at hotels near Walt Disney World, the convention moved last year to the DoubleTree by Hilton Orlando at SeaWorld for more room and a more central location, Alexander-Manley said.
"We had sold out our expo eight years in a row, so we needed more space for vendors," he said. "It's more centrally located. … I think that's helped our numbers grow."