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The Future of Tourism in Provincetown


Published: Sat August 26, 2006
By: Straight Dope in Provincetown > Opinion
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TownOnline.com | By Steve Desroches

For about 25 years, gay and lesbian tourists have been at the core of the tourism industry in Provincetown. This distinction as a gay and lesbian vacation mecca still garners national attention, as well as accolades. The popular gay-oriented website http://www.planetout.com named Provincetown the “Best Gay Resort Town” for 2006 and the widely circulated gay travel newsletter Out Traveler gave the town the same designation in 2005.

However, despite all the attention, there is increasingly more and more competition for what studies say is an $11 billion gay tourist market. Combine that with a continued decrease in business in Provincetown and town tourism officials and business leaders agree it is time to rethink the town’s marketing strategy. It’s time to go beyond just gay and lesbian tourism is a voice increasingly heard around town.

“The one thing we’re doing differently is that we’re smarter, more informed,” said Don Knuuttila, executive director of the Provincetown Business Guild, an organization that promotes the town to gay and lesbian tourists. “We got smarter about who our audience is and should be.”

Based on a variety of meetings, surveys and studies done by both the town and private organizations, and with the help of consultants and public relations professionals, Provincetown is hoping to revive its tourism industry by promoting all aspects of the town, not just its acceptance of gays and lesbians.

“We’re looking at all our available markets,” said the town’s administrative tourism director, Bill Schneider. “It’s no longer just about a niche market.”

Marketing strategy

There is a big push in the tourism office, along with the Visitor Services Board and especially the Economic Development Council, to heavily market Provincetown’s artistic and cultural attractions. With more than 60 art galleries, a still active art colony, the Fine Arts Work Center, the Provincetown Art Association and Museum and the Provincetown Theater, as well as numerous smaller productions, from drag performers to street musicians, the town is a veritable hot bed of cultural activity, much of it cutting edge, say tourism officials.

“That doesn’t require any separation of sexual orientation,” said Schneider, in regard to promoting Provincetown as a cultural destination.
Both Schneider and Knuuttila, as well as others who work in promoting Provincetown, say that gay and lesbian tourism will always be a major part of the town’s economy. Despite competition from other popular gay destinations such as Ogunquit, Maine, Rehoboth Beach, Del., and Fire Island, N.Y., Knuuttila stresses that Provincetown is still a standout.

“The experience here in Provincetown is different,” said Knuuttila, noting that other locations have gay districts that may be limited to a few blocks, while Provincetown is almost completely integrated in that gay and straight mix.

Visits to Commercial Street businesses confirm that many business owners are happy to welcome both gay and straight tourists, bucking a popular misnomer that there is significant tension between the two groups. But there does already seem to be a shift in visitor demographics.

“My customers really aren’t gay anymore,” said Steve Carrey, owner of Lady Z’s, a vintage and retro clothing shop in the East End. “Mostly, they’re straight women.”
His clientele has changed so much that next summer Carrey will no longer carry men’s clothing. Speaking candidly, Carrey echoed a sentiment most other business owners offered off-the record.
“I’ll tell you what we need here in Provincetown,” said Carrey. “I don’t care if they are gay or straight. We need a more sophisticated type of visitor.”

Changing clientele

Carrey, who has operated a business in Provincetown for about 15 years, said that he has seen the visitor shift from one that is interested in art, culture and theater to a more “suburban” crowd.

“They come here, walk around, eat fried dough and leave,” said Carrey. “They’re boring and it is dragging the town’s edgy and camp image down.”

Carrey was sure to say that his impression of the change in visitors included gay men.

“Even the gay men that visit now are more conservative and boring than those that use to come here,” said Carrey.

It appears those that are troubled by the idea of more straight tourists are gay tourists, not townspeople or business owners.

“It does bother me,” said a gay man visiting from Syracuse, N.Y. “We live in the heterosexual world every day. It’s nice to go some place where we are the majority. It seems every time I come here there are more strollers.”

The man expressed a growing sentiment and perception that Provincetown is being “neutered” and trying to shed its wild image for a more family-friendly one. That would be a big mistake, say many business owners, townspeople and tourists, as Provincetown’s wild and edgy scene is what makes the town stand out. But there is no need to worry, say Schneider and Knuuttila.

“The neutering of P’town, at least from the PBG’s perspective is not going to happen,” said Knuuttila.

But the town must find a way to attract younger visitors, said Knuuttila. That is a crucial market that is increasingly not visiting Provincetown, he said. But to attract a younger demographic, certain realities must be accepted, he said.

“Attitudes are shifting,” said Knuuttila, noting that gay and lesbian youth are increasingly more accepted by their straight peers. As such, they don’t see the need for a gay specific venue or destination as much as older gays and lesbians. That perception is supported by a study done by Community Marketing Research and paid for by the town. The San Francisco-based organization that studies gay and lesbian market trends said that to reach gay and lesbian youth, “include them, don’t target them.”

“There’s room for everybody here,” said Schneider. “We need to communicate that in Provincetown there are more things to do than just go to a circuit party.”

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Comments

On Sat August 26, 2006, Straight Dope wrote:

I think the problem that Provincetown is having is Cape wide. Baby boomers are buying up all the real estate and turning them into second homes rather than rental property.

Who stays in rental property? Younger (and hipper) people.

Less rental property = less young (and less hip) people.

The transition of Provincetown from a wild, fun, outrageously gay place has already taken place.

I was at the Carnival parade last week. What type of people were in the crowd? Over 40 and straight mostly… just like yours truly, the Straight Dope.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Provincetown and it will always be a fun place but the VSB, PBG etc will have to deal with the new economy which means most homes are now second homes and that forces a change in the people who visit and stay in Provincetown.

On Tue September 05, 2006, Jill wrote:

The man expressed a growing sentiment and perception that Provincetown is being “neutered” and trying to shed its wild image for a more family-friendly one.

Is Provincetown getting boring?

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