This joyous festival was orchestrated by a surprisingly small number of people, who are celebrating not only the great pride event, but also the tourists and money flowing into the city's treasury, and their success in spreading the word that Tel Aviv is a liberal city.
Mideast's gay capital, as marketed in Europe (Photo: Eitan Tal)
A group of eight Israelis, more or less, managed to fly in 5,000 to 6,000 tourists on the week of the Pride Parade – a 25% increase compared to the previous year. Tourists who turned the white city's streets colorful.
These people and their many assistants are the ones who ensure that gay tourists visit Tel Aviv on other days of the year as well. From year to year, the pink economy leaves a more impressive mark on the city's treasury, and the gay tourists put up a good competition against the French. And all this with a minimal advertising and marketing budget.
According to the Tel Aviv Municipality, the budget for the parade and accompanying events totaled NIS 450,000 (about $132,000) this year – including advertising, amplifiers, policing and cleaning services.
The local campaign for the parade, "It's worthwhile being proud," which was promoted by local community celebrities, was voluntary and did not cost a penny.
The parade, the happening which preceded it and the beach party held at the end (including a host from Berlin and dozens of drag artists and DJs) were produced by the Tel Aviv-Jaffa Municipality's Culture and Arts Department.
The cultural events week held before the parade was produced by the Municipal Center for the Gay, Lesbian, Transgender and Bisexual Community in collaboration with the Culture and Sports Ministry.
$50 million expected in income
What are the proceeds from GLBT tourism? The Tel Aviv Municipality says it doesn't have exact sums right now, but only estimates reported by the Visit TLV association. "Over the past weekends, the room occupancy in the city totaled 75%," the municipality reported.
"According to rough estimates, a tourist spends about $200 a day across the city – 40% of the sum on a hotel and 60% on stores, restaurants, clubs, transportation, etc.
"We believe that tourists arriving for the pride events may even spend more than $200 a day. The expected income throughout the month of May from incoming tourism as a whole (including the Pride Week events) stands at $50 million for all of the city's businesses."
If the estimates talking about thousands of tourists arriving in Israel for four to 10 days are true, at least one-tenth of the proceeds from tourism in June - $7.5 million – were contributed by gay tourists. And this is something the GLBT Association and Municipal Center for the GLTB Community, which came up with the Tel Aviv Gay Vibe brand in order to promote the city as an international gay destination, can definitely be proud of.
Gay tourists flocking to Hilton beach (Photo: Eitan Tal)
The annual branding campaign includes vigorous marketing and advertising efforts in travel agencies and leading community magazines in Britain and Germany, as well as Facebook and Twitter pages, an iPhone application for tourists in Tel Aviv, a "gay" map of Tel Aviv in English and German, and pamphlets presenting Tel Aviv as a city filled with pride.
The campaign team – comprised of advertisers, DJs, producers and a graphic artist – is even sending delegations to pride events worldwide, where they create a buzz on Tel Aviv as a gay stronghold off the Mediterranean coast.
The campaign is a magnet for tourists filling up the Hilton Beach. During the pride events, the beach turned into a small gay tourism office, including a stand in which leaflets on the week's activities were handed out while different DJs played music in the background.
Moreover, all the city's gay and gay-friendly clubs and bars prepared brochures in English, implying that Tel Aviv's GLBT community perceives the parade as an international event.
"After two years of serious work, we are starting to reap the fruit and see an amazing amount of tourism. The entire city is full," says Tel Aviv Council Member and advisor on gay community affairs, Yaniv Weizman.
Anat Nir, a party and event producer, one of the Pride Parade's producers and a member of the global campaign, explains why the municipality decided to take part in this economic engine: "About 10% of the world's population is GLBT, but in Tel Aviv they are much more. When 30% of your residents are gay, you must do something about it. And our goal is for it to serve the community and prove its consumer power."
'Tel Aviv's potential hysterical'
According to the Tel Aviv-Jaffa Municipality, the 2011 budget for the Tel Aviv Gay Vibe campaign is NIS 405,000 ($118,180), and NIS 100,000 ($29,180) for international activity. The budget is partly financed by the municipality and partly by the Tourism Ministry, and has grown from NIS 340,000 ($99,000) last year due to the campaign's success in bringing tourists to Israel.
Shai Deutsch, the GLBT Association's spokesman, who runs the campaign, and the advertising and production team working with him throughout the year, are not paid for their work. They do it out of love.
"We basically recruit community members to volunteer and help us, because 500,000 shekels for a campaign for two countries a year is nothing," says Deutsch, a hotelier and marketing manager in his profession.
"Through volunteer work, we manage to bring gay tourists to Tel Aviv throughout the year and not only on pride weekend, and the investment pays for itself very fast. We know the community, choose focused media and hold extensive activities. We know how to funnel the money we receive to projects worth much more.
"The fact that we're a team of professionals working with our souls, raises the campaign's effectiveness. And it has become a full-time job. From several hours a week it has become my second job.
"But there's no doubt that we'll have to become professional. Every leading city in the world has someone branding the gay segment. My colleagues worldwide are municipality workers. This is how Barcelona succeeded.
"At the moment we see excellent results, but we want to maximize what we have and reach better results. Tel Aviv's potential in terms of gay tourism is hysterical, and we want to conquer it and attract more tourists from all over the world."
The tweets and statuses of the proud Israeli community go far. "A study we conducted revealed that the buzz and talk about Tel Aviv is very strong in the world," says Anat Nir.
"Our work is voluntary, but when there's a desire to make a change, to fight for rights, one finds the time. We initiated the tourism campaign because we feel the desire for a cultural exchange in the community's progress, in creating ties. We find it important to be part of a global community and economy. Tourism here is alive and kicking – we have a good location when it comes to lesbian attractions."
Discount card for gays
The campaign sells Tel Aviv as a free, fun and fabulous city. "A metropolis along the beach, a free and safe place in which you can enjoy yourself," explains Deutsch.
"Beyond the advertising campaign, we made a breakthrough in terms of welcoming tourists here. We engage in intensive PR activity abroad, as some 36 journalists and a similar number of travel agents arrived here to cover the pride week and explore the city.
"We issued a discount card called Hot Pass for the gay tourist, which costs $39 and includes a free tour of Tel Aviv, a gym membership, discounts in clubs – there were 22 parties on the week of the parade, in special clothing stores and in gay-owned or gay-friendly restaurants.
"All studies conducted in recent years prove that the gay tourist brings in the biggest proceeds, with a higher disposable income, spending $1,500 during his visit, not including accommodation and flights. He has a developed leisure culture, he eats in the best restaurants, shops and drinks in bars.
"This year we managed to bring here tourists for 10 nights and everyone enjoys it, including the taxi drivers and gyms. Almost everyone travels to Jerusalem and the Dead Sea too, and the next time they come here they'll also go to Eilat.
"We are already preparing for the next year, with the goal of expanding and opening Tel Aviv to new markets, and our budget will grow too. This year we saw tourist arrive from new countries like South America and Russia."
Brochure for gay tourist (Photo: Eitan Tal)
And yet Ronan Kaplan-Affner, the event's PR agent, says it's impossible to know exactly how many gay tourists are sunbathing on Tel Aviv's beach at any given time. "No one asks a person arriving at Ben-Gurion Airport if he's gay or straight," he explains.
"Our estimates are based on travel agencies abroad, figures from previous years and social networks. We can't rely on data from the Israeli hotels, as tourism to Israel is made up of many apartments near the Tel Aviv beach, and there are quite a few Israelis who accommodate tourists in their homes too."
Is Tel Aviv in Israel?
Indeed, according to a survey conducted in Germany in March, Tel Aviv is the seventh most popular gay tourism destination, "and the Germans are the most traveling people in Europe," he claims. "And that happened within two years of advertising. Our goal is to be among the top five."
When you advertise abroad, do you write the word 'Israel' next to Tel Aviv?
"We don't write the word Israel, but not necessarily for political reasons, but because studies conducted in the past 10 years show that the gay tourist travels to cities, not to countries. You cannot disconnect Tel Aviv from Israel and we have no such intention. Tel Aviv is their front gate to Israel. From here they travel to Jerusalem and the Dead Sea."
Are you met with negative reactions at conferences abroad?
"Yes, because the world is presented with a very negative angle of Israel, and we present a country with rights for the community and a liberal city, and that amazes them.
"They think we're a third world country and that we're thrown in jail for holding hands. But when they visit here, they discover a safer city than all cities in Europe, which not only has a 'proud' area, but an entire 'proud' city. I always tell them in advance, 'You'll be amazed to discover how proud we are.'
"A year later they come with their friends, those who told them not to go. Our product is excellent and all we have to do is create a link between the demand for gay tourism and the product. The gay tourist travels three times a year, and we want Tel Aviv to be one of those destinations."
Lesbian tourists like culture, history
Lesbian tourism makes up only 24% of all gay tourism. It seems women have a visibility problem stemming from a representation issue, as they are the majority in voluntary organizations but are not where the money is.
The Tel Aviv Gay Vibe campaign includes ads and leaflets and a section which appeals to women only. "No more will you see nine gays on the beach with one lesbian on the side for the laughs," says Anat Nir.
Female models in TA campaign (Photo: Eitan Tal)
"Fifty-percent of the ads have female models and a drag queen and genderqueer, and 50% of the media we buy abroad turns to women. The campaign expresses our consumer power as a community, out of the belief that women's situation is undergoing a change worldwide, and the results are definitely impressive.
"I have been producing women's parties for 12 years, and this year there is a significant number of lesbian tourists. It's just amazing to see. We don't have data, but in a year or two we'll be able to receive statistics just from the purchase of discount cards. But at the moment the goal is to bring female tourists here.
"The female consumer likes history, out-of-town tours, the sea and cultural events. There are three major community events every year: The Pride Parade, Purim and the Endless Summer weekend in September, which is expected to focus on the lesbian community and be something of a festival nature. And it's something that reflects women's consumer decisions.
"Female tourists who come here from attractive capitals say there's nothing like this where they come from. There are full of parties here, regular nights, and a lesbians' bar which has been active for 14 years now.
"There are very strong communal elements here. We have one of the more developed lesbian communities in the world, if not the most developed."
Amit Cotler contributed to this report
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