Marketing the Rainbow

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Miss Richfield 1981

In August 2013 drag legend Miss Richfield 1981 was hired to lure visitors to Philly. The GPTMC introduced the “Miss Richfield’s Selfie Tour” at the National Gay & Lesbian Journalist Association’s annual convention in Boston. The clip will air on Logo, Bravo and the Style network, as well as on LGBT-focused websites.

Note: Jeff Guaracino, the leader of the GPTMC campaign and CEO of Wawa Welcome America, was invited by Elsevier to share what GPTMC had learned with a wider audience in the tourism and marketing industries in a first-of-its-kind book called, Gay and Lesbian Tourism: The Essential Guide for Marketing (Elsevier 2007). The book features case studies, best practices in gay tourism marketing, and expert advice from the pioneers in gay travel.

How it began

The City of Brotherly Love… marketed since 2003 by the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation (GPTMC) as “Philadelphia. Get Your History Straight and Your Nightlife Gay”, when GPTMC “joined a very short list of cities around the world to officially “come out” as a gay-friendly destination.”

Since then, Philadelphia spent a couple of million dollars towards gay and lesbian travelers. The campaign was dubbed “the Nation's Largest Gay Tourism Marketing Campaign”.


Before doing so, GPTMC commissioned the first-ever primary research study on gay travel specific to a U.S. destination called Gay Tourism 2003 with Community Marketing Inc. Goals were to establish: a demographic profile for potential gay visitors, geographic “feeder” markets, motivations for travel and length of trip and statistical benchmarks. GPTMC used the data to frame the issue as “a good business decision” rather than a social or political statement. Findings indicated that Philadelphia has appeal as a national gay destination, not just a regional one.

The first results

A second survey was conducted in 2005, called Gay Tourism 2005. Just 18 months after the launch of the gay-friendly tourism marketing campaign, gay travelers said they were spending 30% more than they did before because of the gay campaign. The also revealed that for every USD 1 GPTMC invests in gay tourism marketing, USD 153 is returned in direct visitor spending (as opposed to USD 92 for the ‘general population’). This was the first time that Return on Investment on gay tourism marketing was reported in the travel industry.

The lesbian tourists

In 2007 marketing efforts wer shifted to lesbians, who were less likely to have visited the city than gay men, according to Deborah Diamond, director of research and strategy for the GPTMC. The city also reached out to gay athletes by meeting with gay softball, bowling and soccer leagues to accommodate their competitions, and it hosted the International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival.

Later that year GPTMC conducted an online survey after Philadelphia hosted “R Family Vacations” for their first-ever land based vacations: 97% of respondents were either “satisfied” or “very satisfied”, 67% “Strongly agreed” that Philadelphia is warm and welcoming to gay families. 


They defined a number of campaign objectives, such as

Position Philadelphia’s gay tourism campaign as a industry leader making innovative moves making the largest marketing commitment by a destination specifically for lesbian travelers.

Educate and involve the gay and straight members of the hospitality industry through the creation of the Philadelphia Gay Tourism Caucus, a coalition of volunteers from hotels, event producers, marketing agencies, cultural institutions and attractions.

Create corporate partnerships to extend the advertising reach. Corporate partnerships include Orbitz and Southwest Airlines, a first-of-its-kind partnership between those companies and a destination in the gay travel category.

A groundbreaking TV ad (2004) placed the city’s gay-friendliness in historic perspective, building on the slogan Get Your History Straight and Your Nightlife Gay.


GPTMC was very pleased with the results, which they “summarized in two words: extraordinary and unprecedented”. The campaign received multiple prestigious awards in the advertising, travel and public relations categories, becoming “the most-award winning gay tourism marketing campaign in history.” Publicity coverage of the campaign was valued at USD 20 million in earned media.

Other measurements of success have been traffic to, subscribers to the electronic newsletter, Gay Tripper, brochure distribution, and downloads of the television commercial, Penn Pals. The campaign is credited with driving tourism to the region and is also cited with at least two businesses opening there from entrepreneurs who moved to Philadelphia because of the campaign and the city’s gay-friendly reputation. Philadelphia’s campaign is widely recognized by the media and in college case studies as a best practice gay tourism marketing campaign.

Bruce Yelk is director of public relations at the GPTMC. He measures the success of his city’s campaign through surveys. Before the marketing effort began, Philadelphia ranked in the top 25 travel destinations among LGBT leisure travelers. In recent years, the city has ranked in the top 10. Today, Philadelphia boasts being the only city that received 100 on Human Rights Campaign’s Municipal Equality Index without needing bonus points.

Yelk said his organization spends USD 200,000 per year marketing to the LGBT community. He said at the time he’d like to see marriage equality come to the state next as a way of continuing to attract gay and lesbian tourism to the city - well, that finally happened in 2015!

Case study: Philadelphia

Branche: Travel