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Fargo-Moorhead Visitor's Bureau aims to draw gay travelers to area

FARGO -- Like many gay men who enjoy travel, David Paisley has done the usual circuit: San Francisco, New York, Miami. The senior programs director for Community Marketing Inc., a gay and lesbian market research firm, is seeking something fresh.

Next stop: Fargo?

For local tourism officials, that's the idea.

Slowly and quietly, the Fargo-Moorhead Convention and Visitor's Bureau has been working up a plan to market the region as a gay- and lesbian-friendly destination.

The plan is still in its infancy, but the CVB ultimately hopes to tap into an estimated $70 billion in annual domestic economic impact generated by gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender tourists -- a cohort that travels heavily and wields outsized disposable spending power.

It's a big enough market that travel websites like Orbitz, Expedia and Travelocity have dedicated gay travel sections.

"That sector of tourism spending is huge," said Teri Onsgard, the CVB's director of sales.

Onsgard has been at the forefront of the organization's exploration of gay tourism -- an area of focus in the CVB's marketing plan for the past two years. She's attended conferences on gay marketing, compiled research on what works and what doesn't and promoted the area's growing FM Pride Week.

For now, it's a relatively minor element in the organization's broader marketing efforts. Since the CVB added gay and lesbian tourism to its marketing plan two years ago, it has spent less than $5,000 on the niche, out of an annual sales and marketing budget of nearly $700,000.

"It's a small part of our marketing budget, it's a small part of our marketing plan, but this is something that we're supporting," said Cole Carley, CVB president and chief executive.

Paisley, whose San Francisco-based company has done consulting work for the CVB, said efforts to reach out to gay and lesbian travelers aren't unique to Fargo and Moorhead. A growing number of mid-size cities nationwide are looking to court gay and lesbian visitors, he said.

He said such cities can fill two roles: a cultural hub for regional gay residents and a new option for out-of-state and international visitors who want a break from more established locations.

And if Fargo-Moorhead ever puts together a full-fledged gay marketing campaign, Paisley said, it'll turn heads.

"We probably haven't thought much about it, and when we see an active outreach campaign, it'll surprise us, quite frankly," he said. "And that's great."

Eccher is a reporter for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.