Trevor’s Notebook: Make Tampa Bay a gay destination

By : Trevor Pettiford
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TervorPettifordHeadshotIt’s fascinating to think that just a few short years ago, the LGBT community was at odds with Hillsborough County Commissioners over their refusal to recognize LGBT Pride. Today, the county joins a long and growing list of jurisdictions that not only recognize LGBT Pride, offer domestic partner benefits and have a domestic partner registry, but are also rolling out the rainbow carpet to gay tourists.

Seeing a local government or company realize all the green in the gay flag is nothing new, but actually targeting LGBT international tourists is a new concept for Tampa Bay. Santiago Corrada, President and CEO of Visit Tampa Bay says, “the Bay Area has a wide variety of hotels and destinations that are very welcoming to the LGBT community.”
David Downing, interim executive director of Visit St. Pete/Clearwater agrees. “From Clearwater Beach to Gulfport, Pinellas County offers a unique variety boutique hotels, bed and breakfasts and beach side resorts that are inclusive to all.”

This effort to attract international LGBT tourists sounds like a rainbow party ready to happen, but it begs the question, what do they do when they get here? Unlike cities such as Fort Lauderdale, with its army of gay resorts ranging from the elegant Grand Resort and Spa to the decadent and dare I say “naughty” Inn Leather, Tampa Bay’s list of guest houses and hotels that serve gay patrons is brief, to say the least.

My partner and I recently spent a weekend evening at the Gay St. Pete House. It’s a homey bed and breakfast on Fifth Avenue North in St. Petersburg that boasts of a clothing optional pool, hot tub, continental breakfast and a surprisingly good selection of swimsuits for purchase. But owner Brian Longstreth, says it can sometimes be a lonely business.

“I’d gladly welcome more competition!” he said enthusiastically sitting poolside on one of our recent rainy day weekends. “I have a lot of returning guests that visit from other countries, but I think it’s have more if there were other places that catered specifically to our community.”

Then there is of course the Flamingo a.k.a. “The Dirty Bird” as some affectionately call it. Although it has the infrastructure to be a top destination for gays, with its party-sized pink trimmed pool, dining services and convenient art, jewelry, leather and swimwear/underwear shops right there on property, many complain about the outdated style of the rooms.

The large tube TVs, out-of-style decor and vintage bath tub showers are crying “last call!” That was the response from friends of mine who were visiting from Costa Rica last month and stayed at the Flamingo for a long weekend.

The Sawmill offers a unique alternative to staying in a hotel. Either roughing it in a tent. or taking the more “civilized” route in a camper or cabin can make for an interesting stay. But Santiago believes in the contrary cliché—If you they come, you will build it.

“Once we attract more gay international tourists to the area,” Santiago says, “businesses that cater to those specific needs of the LGBT community will evolve.”

In addition to more resorts, there’s an opportunity to bring in more events and destinations. For example, Sunday Tea Dance and the Flamingo has always been a favorite way to end the weekend. But what about all this water that’s surrounds us?

A tea dance cruise once or twice a month would make a great option and would attract not only tourists, but locals as well. Add some fun music, sprinkle in a couple of drag queens and muscle boys serving shots and “Ding!” your party is ready! And maybe, just maybe, it could make crossing “the great divide” (also known as the Howard Frankland Bridge) less of a barrier.

Day trips like paddle boarding tours, kayak adventures and biking excursions that don’t necessarily have to be gay exclusive, but that can be more “LGBT-centric” by offering pick-ups and drip-offs at places like the Flamingo or GaYbor would help to create more package deals that can sell as an entire weekend.

With events like this month’s Tampa International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, the much anticipated Tampa Pride Parade and Festival scheduled for March 28, 2015, and the expanding St. Pete Pride weekend in June, there is an opportunity to make Tampa Bay the newest, hottest destination for the LGBT community. We have warmer waters that Provincetown, better beaches than Fort Lauderdale and open arms that stretch from bay to bay ready to embrace our worldwide community. Let’s get Tampa Bay ready to be the gay area for international tourists!

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