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Pitching travel to Provincetown - Getting the message out

Published: Sun August 13, 2006
By: Straight Dope in Provincetown > News
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By Adrienne P. Samuels | Boston Globe Staff

When gay culture goes mainstream, what does a gay mecca do?

Provincetown is looking for answers. Once among the handful of places where gays could vacation and be comfortable, the bohemian beach resort is worrying that its core market may dwindle as gay travelers discover new destinations.

As a result, the town is quietly promoting another side of itself. It is trying to reach gay families and straight audiences, playing up historical attractions and plentiful family-oriented activities.

``As gay civil rights advance, Provincetown’s exclusivity as a gay destination probably loses on the other end,” said Patrick Patrick, president of the Provincetown Chamber of Commerce, who said his group ``has been asking them to do that for years, to push more broad-based marketing.”

The town has hired a Boston public relations firm, Focus Communications, to contact travel writers about a rebranded Provincetown, one where the Pilgrims landed before sailing on to Plymouth, where pirates and writers lived, and where pristine beaches and sand dunes add up to spectacular natural beauty.

``Would love to get you out here for a visit or coordinate interviews with experts to help others understand that it is so much more than a gay/lesbian hot spot,” said an e-mail recently sent by the agency.

With its long tradition as an outpost on the Cape’s outer edge, Provincetown has long held a virtual lock on gay tourism, a haven where like-minded people could visit without worry of harrassment.

Tourism officials in the town, which drops from some 30,000 residents during the summer travel season to a tenth of that number in the winter, have worried for some time about its tourist base. Hit by the same troubles that hurt virtually all tourist areas after the terrorist attacks of 2001, it has stepped up advertising in recent years as other destinations have more aggressively promoted themselves.

``Five to 10 years ago, people were going to come here whether we advertised or not,” said Lynne Davies of the town’s Visitor Services Board, which oversees the spending of the town’s room tax dollars for tourism-related items.

``The times have changed,” Davies said. ``. . . Now we’re advertising across the board, letting folks know we’re still here.”

In recent years, room taxes levied on hotel and other overnight guests have dipped, a possible sign that tourism has fallen off, officials said.

``We certainly got the message a year ago that tourism was declining,” said Bill Schneider, Provincetown’s administrative director of tourism. ``We felt, as a leader, we really needed to do something, rather than sit back and wait for the economy to change.”

In going after a mainstream market, officials are trying to be careful to avoid alienating the gay travelers who still make up the bulk of tourism in Provincetown.

``We’re not backing off” marketing to gays, said Davies, who is gay and said the town spends about 20 percent of its tourism budget on gay-centered marketing. ``We’re recognizing who our audience is, which is significant.”

The town’s local gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered association, the Provincetown Business Guild, exclusively markets the town to that audience.

Executive director Don Knuuttila said he agrees with the grass-roots approach.

``You always have to broaden your market,” he said. ``There’s more competition out there now, more than at any other time, particularly in the GLBT market. . . . You always have to constantly look at who is coming, why they’re coming, and broadening your base. It’s vital to the success of any business.”

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