Marketing the Rainbow

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I wrote an article in 2015 called "6.8 billion reasons to love gay tourists", which described the incredible success that Spain had in attracting LGBT visitors - yielding an annual revenue of EUR6.8 bln. 

The trend is clear: in 2005, members from the Prime Minister’s People’s Party led 100,000 protesters in a march against legalizing gay marriage. In 2015, regional President Cristina Cifuentes flew the rainbow flag, symbolizing support for gay people, from institutional buildings. Spain had become perhaps the most gay-friendly country in southern Europe. Homosexuality is legal and the age of consent is 16, as it is for heterosexuals. All this is spite of opposition from the powerful Catholic church. 

In 2006 PlanetOut had named Spain its "Destination of the Year" at the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association convention.[1] One of the reasons was the introduction of same-sex marriage in 2005. It established Spain’s credentials as a holiday destination where people can feel relaxed about their sexuality, sometimes in a way they can’t back home. Madrid, Barcelona, Sitges, Torremolinos and Ibiza have particularly lively scenes.


Madrid Pride

This in turn led to an increased interest in events like Madrid Pride, growing in numbers to 2 million visitors to become Europe’s biggest gay pride, generating €150 million for the local economy in just 5 days. It has also become the largest periodic event in Spain and was awarded the title “Best Gay Event in the World” by LOGO/MTV. Revenues were even higher in 2017 as Madrid hosted World Pride. Some three million people are were expected to take part in the event and Spanish airline Iberia as well as several hotels launched special offers in conjunction with the event.

Madrid also hosts the annual Les Gai Cine Mad festival, a celebration of lesbian, gay and transsexual films in mid Autumn.


The website Madrid Orgullo claims that Madrid is the LGTB capital of Spain, has a population of 500.000 gays in all the region, with around 600 companies aiming almost exclusively at the LGBT, and the city offering 350 leisure, cultural and sportive events every year. The region of Madrid is visited annually by 3 million LGTB guests.[2]

Madrid’s tourist office used to have useful section on its website, but this is now limited to Pride

The Chueca is highlighted by a special portal, and Gay Madrid 4 U gives a good overview of Madrid’s gay bars and nightclubs.



Event organizers in Barcelona chose to create a different festival: Circuit. After some hiccups and growing pains, the number of visitors for this 2-week event grew to 71,000 in 2015, generating an estimated €150 million for the local economy. In this period, Barcelona is plastered in posters featuring male models advertising parties aimed at gay visitors and stores carry signs with special offers, from sun-beds to free gym passes as the city is taken over by non-stop clubbing and pool parties. After eight years, the festival is expanding to Ibiza and the Canaries in 2016, catering to increasing demand for gay (and to a lesser extent lesbian) events.

Barcelona’s tourist board publishes Barcelona: The Official Gay and Lesbian Tourist Guide biannually


By late 2015 media reported that Spain was “winning the battle for gay tourists”. According to a report by LGBT Capital, , an investment firm based in the British Virgin Islands that focuses on gay-themed assets, gay and lesbian visitors contribute about USD 6.8 billion to the Spanish economy, edging out France as Europe’s top destination (USD 6.6 billion) and surpassing the UK (€ 4.3 bilion)[3]. An important qualification was added: gay people spend about 30 percent more on average than mainstream tourists in Spain, according to government estimates, boosting an economy where tourism accounts for 12 percent of jobs.

Going smaller

But it were not just the big cities that saw the attraction of the rainbow guests. During the Fitur tourism fair in Madrid in 2017, noticeably more companies were plugging cultural attractions and nature activities to this market. Spain's western region of Extremadura, for example, featured posters promoting annual gay pride festivities in the city of Badajoz, which began in response to homophobic comments made by a local politician. 

One observer called it "Badajoz Pride: one of Spain’s best kept queer secrets?" The local airport has two flights a day and the region is best known for free-ranging pigs feeding on acorns. Is this the most unlikely place for a massive street party, inspired by a homophobic mayor?

The annual festival is called “Los Palomos” (meaning “pigeons”, but also used as a derogatory term for gays). When the (now ex-)mayor of Badajoz called gays “palomos” in a radio interview in 2011, saying that “lame ‘pigeons’ left his city” he certainly didn’t think that this would give birth to one of the most vibrant responses celebrating diversity in his “provincial backwater”. It turned out that his backward views were held not so much by the people. “Los Palomos” started as a protest party in the centre the city, with 10,000 not so lame “pigeons” and their friends dancing in the streets a few weeks after the derogatory remarks. The event became a runaway success. Suddenly, Badajoz was on the “gay map” – but not because it was a place from where “lame pigeons” fled from, but rather a place where they flocked to. “Los Palomos” today can be seen as one of the biggest celebrations of diversity in Spain. Year after year, the festival has gathered more support with over 30,000 participants in 2018. In fact, it is now the most popular event in the city – even more popular than the famous Carneval. While the first edition lasted only a day, nowadays Badajoz celebrates diversity for two weeks: starting from IDAHO in May until the first weekend in June and featuring exhibitions, films, theatre plays, concerts … and even a thematic tapas route - with the current mayor joining in comfortably.

In 2014 the region launched a series of tourism campaigns that will be aired in gay magazines and media across the EU. 

But it also promoted bird watching trips, local architecture and rural tourism to LGBT travellers at a dedicated section of the fair. The goal was to appeal to the growing number of gay and lesbian couples with children, said Hugo Alonso of the Extremadura's tourism promotion agency.

Pride festivities are used by many Spanish coastal destinations to attract gay travellers outside of their high season. The beach resort of Maspalomas, on Spain's Canary Islands, stages three pride events each year, which generate up to 20million euros each, said the organiser of the event, Fernando Ilarduya. There has also been a boom in the number of cruises, vacation clubs and bungalows geared specifically at the gay market.

Sitges is a modest, yet vibrant coastal village just outside Barcelona, that has been a gay mecca for decades. 

Carnaval in Sitges is a sparkly week-long fest, complete with masked balls and capped by extravagant gay parades held on the Sunday and Tuesday, featuring flamboyantly dressed drag queens, giant sound systems and a wild all-night party with bars staying open until dawn.

Gay Iberia ( Gay guides to Barcelona, Madrid, Sitges and 26 other Spanish cities.

Gay Seville ( Gay guide to Andalucía's capital. Annual highlights and gay events in Seville are the Holy Week (Semana Santa) in March/April, the Seville Spring Fair two weeks after Semana Santa, Seville Gay Pride (Orgullo de Andalucía) usually end of June and the annual bear weekend GuadalkiBear in October/November.

Shangay ( For news, upcoming events, reviews and contacts. It also publishes Shanguide, a Madrid-centric biweekly magazine jammed with listings

[1] Travel Agent Central, June 28, 2006

[2] Madrid Orgullo

[3] The U.S. is the global leader with USD 21.5 billion of revenue.

Case study: Spain

Branche: Travel