Same-sex tourismSame-sex tourism

Tel Aviv reinvented as gay hotspot

Municipality has successfully marketed itself as LGBT mecca

Thousands attended the gay pride parade 2011 beach party at Gordon Beach, Tel Aviv (photo credit: Michal Shmulovich)
Thousands attended the gay pride parade 2011 beach party at Gordon Beach, Tel Aviv (photo credit: Michal Shmulovich)

With a raging night life that Claire Danes described to Conan O’Brian as “the most intense party town I’d ever been to,” its gay-friendly atmosphere and fast-paced vibe, Tel Aviv has become one of the world’s top destinations for gay tourism, the Daily Beast recently wrote.

The city emerged as a hot spot nearly overnight, in large part due to efforts by its mayor, Ron Huldai, who recognized the potential for tourism revenue and began marketing the city as its own entity – Tel Aviv, not Israel.

The municipality expects some 50,000 LGBT visitors to travel to Tel Aviv in 2013 and possibly twice that number in 2014, according to the report.

Yaniv Waizman, the mayor’s adviser on gay community affairs, described some of the city’s efforts to attract gay tourists.

“The first thing they did was send well-known (and good-looking) Israeli performers to gay pride events in major cities around the world,” he told the Beast. “They also placed sexy ads in major gay rags across Europe and America, including Out and The Advocate. They even reached out to celebrity bloggers, like Perez Hilton, with a hard-to-resist offer: a free trip to Tel Aviv, all expenses paid, in return for a little publicity.”

The piece cited disturbing statistics offered by the Israel AIDS Task Force that describe a startling jump in the number of HIV cases in Israel – a 30 percent increase since 2007, when gay tourism began to take off. But the task force’s Dr. Yuval Livnat is quoted offering a differing opinion for the rise in HIV infection.

“People are less careful today because of the new medications,” he was quoted as saying.

Tel Aviv was voted one of the best gay cities in a poll in 2011 and was chosen as one of the hottest tourist destinations by Lonely Planet that same year. CNN also ranked the city as second in the world for its pride week campaign, citing two concerts (June 3-4) by gay rights activist and singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright.

Shai Deutsch, in charge of tourism for Israel’s Gay Association, said that in 2011 a record number of tourists visited during gay pride, thanks in part to concerted efforts to market the city as gay-friendly. For example, the city’s hotels coordinated with the municipality to offer a range of packages. Excellent parties, he added, were thrown all week long.

Michal Shmulovich contributed to this report.

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