Nevada tourism officials going after gay and lesbian market

Surprise! Rural Nevada smartly steps up gay and lesbian tourism strategy.

Richard N. Velotta

Listening to Mya Lake Reyes, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority’s director of diversity marketing and an expert on the LGBT travel market, talk about her compelling visual in her presentation about how to attract more gay and lesbian customers to a destination.

In the slide is a picture of six $100 bills.

“This is what’s important to you,” Reyes told her audience. “When you look at these hundreds, you don’t know whether they came from a black man, an Asian woman or a gay traveler. The important thing to you is that you get it. It all spends the same way, no matter who gave it to you.”

With travelers being far more protective of their hard-earned cash these days, making money has become a bigger challenge for the tourism industry. While things have been tough in Las Vegas, imagine how much harder it is in places like Gabbs, Pioche and Austin where they don’t have iconic magnets like the fountains at Bellagio and Celine Dion down the block.

That’s one of the reasons I was fascinated that Reyes’ presentation, “Straight Talk on the Gay Market,” was scheduled at the Nevada Commission on Tourism’s recent Rural Roundup in Mesquite.

How would marketing to lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders play in rural Nevada? Wouldn’t it be like in Star Trek when matter and antimatter come into contact with each other and the universe explodes?

Could the good people of Beatty and Ely look beyond sexual orientation and welcome the LGBTs with open arms?

I’ll admit, I was skeptical. It’s one thing for Reyes to sell the straight talk message in Las Vegas, where almost anything goes. It’s another to bring it to downtown Tonopah.

Larry Friedman, the commission’s acting director, has worked a long time with rural tourism entities. Before accepting the director’s role on an interim basis late last year, Friedman was the point man with the rural communities and has gotten to know the people well.

“In all my years in the industry, I’ve never run across any homophobia in rural Nevada,” he said. “Never.”

I figured I’d see for myself at Reyes’ presentation and find out if the stereotypes are true and how those people handled things.

Darn, I just violated one of Mya Reyes’ first rules: Never refer to the community as “those people.” She said it’s OK to reference “LGBT and GLBT,” “partners,” “husbands and wives,” “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.”

It’s not OK to reference “sexual preference,” “alternative lifestyle,” “your friend,” “those people,” “that market” and “homosexual.”

And Reyes said to avoid at all costs the words “queer,” “lifestyle,” “homo” and “transvestite.” I’m sure there are a few other terms that I won’t include here.

Her presentation was filled with nuggets of information about marketing to LGBTs.

The U.S. Census Bureau says 10 percent of the nation’s population is gay and one in seven people have a gay family member, co-worker, neighbor or friend.

There are 15 million gay adults in the United States and their median age is 45. They have buying power of $690 million and their average household income is $82,000 a year—and 35 percent have household incomes in excess of $100,000 a year.

Sixty-four percent are college graduates (compared with the 29 percent national average) and 85 percent take annual vacations compared with 64 percent of the national average. Reyes said 40 percent will increase their leisure travel this year.

Surveys have found that Las Vegas is one of the best at marketing to gay travelers.

Because 65 percent of lesbians are in relationships, they have travel partners. Lesbian partners have more passports than their heterosexual counterparts.

Bottom line? There’s money to be made if you pay attention to the gay market—and there’s a respectful relationship. After watching the interaction between the rural vendors and the gay travelers attending the session, I had my answer. The universe isn’t going to explode.

I’ll admit, I had been a victim of my own stereotypical thinking. Yes, I had completely misjudged the rural folks. Maybe you had, too.

So try to put your biases and bigoted thinking behind you about rural Nevadans. They’re not the rednecks and dirt farmers many have made them out to be.

Oh, and some of the stereotypes about gays are wrong, too.

Real Estate


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  1. Wow! How insightful! "You don't know where you got it!," speaking of money in the cash register. Now why didn't I think of that? What a crock! This is just another way of "Balkanizing" America by emphasizing our differences rather than our similarities under the guise of "caring, compassion and sensitivity" towards others. How would I, as a businessman, know if you're gay or straight and why would I care? I'm selling something and you want to buy and I question your sexual orientation instead of take your money? How long do I remain in business with an attitude such as that? Is this Mya Lake Reyes for real? "Director of diversity marketing?" An expert on the "LGBT travel market?" How whacko have we become?

  2. Jerry, I disagree. I am a gay man over 60. Gay life in the 1970's, when one could be arrested for being in a gay bar, can in no way compare to today's world. My husband and I moved here close to a year ago. While we have not experienced any homophobia, we are still "cautious". We have been advised by both straight and gay friends we've met to "lower our profile". We are not flamboyant, but do have matching wedding bands and occasionally use terms of endearment when in public. I even hesitate to write this since it will appear under my own name. Target advertising must work. Gay meccas like San Francisco, Palm Springs, Provincetown and Key West continue to do it. The gay community prefers to spend our money in places where we feel welcome. There are states that I refuse to visit because of their negative attitude. I appreciate your pragmatic business approach; it is not universal. It is ironic that Tonopah was mentioned in the article. We have friends visiting early June and were debating whether it would be safe to go there. Perhaps we too have been guilty of "stereotypical thinking"... perhaps.

  3. With so many places that accept the gay community at face value and with open arms why would the gay community look to visit places that are feigning interest because they are trying to shore up their budgets. Believe it or not travel marketing gurus and rural red neck Nevada, you now need us more than we have ever needed you. These close minded cities will never change their views of our "lifestyle". Btw, it's okay to say "lifestyle" it is what it is, getting caught up on the words of expression only impede people from understanding the message. Honestly, there are so many cities that have been marketing to the gay community faithfully, why would we look to cities that only need us for our money. It's disgusting and repulsive that Mya Lake Reyes believes the gay community will part with their money if a city puts up a rainbow flag. This two-bit hack may classify herself as an "expert" at the LGBT travel market, because she can pull up statistics, but she is way out of whack with how we emotionally spend the money. She doesn't understand how entrenched people are with their beliefs, especially a topic so polarizing as sexual orientation.

    I was researching the Wynn hotel yesterday and they have a site marketing to the gay traveler, Apparently, the gay demographic is so polarizing we deserve our own website, lest we offend the main population on Wynn's main website. This half-hearted marketing approach to pull us in, only draws us away. The Wynn wants our money, but not bad enough to risk incorporating and mentioning the "gay lifestyle" somewhere on their website. When it comes to marketing to the gay community we don't want some half a**ed effort that only notices us because we have the money. We want you to devote your marketing dollars in places that matter to us the most: AFAN, Pride Parade, BroadwayBares and all of the events in the gay community that need sponsors.

    By the way, I didn't see the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority's name on any of the sponsor listings at the AFAN event.

  4. NV,GAY



  5. Its a good idea - tourist dollars are competitive and there are many closet gays - just look at Craigslist personals men for men or casual encounters. LV caters to everything else - Go for it!