Travel

Phoenix Dusts Off the Gay Welcome Mat

by Troy Petenbrink
Contributor
Monday Dec 6, 2010
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Earlier this year, the Gay and Lesbian Leadership Institute decided to move the location of its 2011 conference from Phoenix to Las Vegas. The action was not specifically against Phoenix but in response to Arizona lawmakers passage of one of the country’s strictest anti-illegal immigration measures.

According to a report by KSAZ-TV, the Phoenix-based Fox affiliate, GLLI said in a letter provided to local officals who were working to bring the conference to the city, "The current political and legal climate in Arizona makes it complicated to accept your hospitality."

While the exact impact of GLLI’s move and the boycotts that were organized against the state by other LGBT organizations such as the Human Rights Campaign, the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, GLAAD and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Action Fund is unclear, it was a significant setback to Phoenix’s effort to solidify its place as a welcoming destination for gay travelers.

Since as early as 2006, Phoenix has been proactively targeting the gay travel market. City officals, including gay city councilman Tom Simplot, strongly supported the effort - and still do. In addition, many officials in the Greater Phoenix area, such as Simplot and Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon, have been staunch opponent of the new state immigration law.

Released last month, a survey of gay travelers by Community Marketing, Inc., which specializes in gay tourism research, found that Greater Phoenix (Phoenix, Scottsdale and Tempe) ranked 19 among the top 20 US leisure destinations for American gay travelers. The new ranking was down slightly from 2009, prior to passage of Arizona’s new anti-immigration rules.

The International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association joined in solidarity with those who condemned the "hurtful and discriminatory actions on immigration policy taken by Arizona" but it did not support a boycott. IGLTA claimed that a boycott would unfairly punish employees of the hospitality industry "who have done no harm to others."

A recent report, commissioned by the Center for American Progress, found that the losses from meetings that were cancelled following approval of Arizona’s immigration control law total $141 million in direct spending by attendees. Further, the economic hit from cancelled meetings that would have occurred over the next two to three years-$253 million in economic output-affects 2,800 jobs that would have been supported by that activity.

The report did not include unrelated leisure travel cancellations, losses from damaged international relations with Mexico and decisions by members of the entertainment industry to stay out of Arizona. Nor did it quantify the consequences of workers and families that have reportedly left the state or the costs of litigation to defend a law that has been preliminarily ruled as unconstitutional.

As debate and legal action continues to surround Arizona’s efforts to address its immigration policies, gay travelers will be left to decide on their own if they should visit. And for those who do, Greater Phoenix is prepared to welcome them with open arms.

""Phoenix’s 320 days of sunshine shine on everyone and the hospitality here is, indeed, welcoming to the LGBT traveler," said Doug MacKenzie, Director of Communications for the Greater Phoenix Convention and Visitors Bureau.


Stay

The Phoenix area has long been known for its exceptional resorts. For gay travelers, there are a wealth of welcoming TAG Approved properties.

The Arizona Biltmore, with its Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired design, provides classic comfort. And for those seeking someplace more hip, nothing beats the mid-century stylings of Scottsdale’s Hotel Valley Ho, originally built in 1959 and rehabilited in 2005. Also in Scottsdale is the InterContinental Montelucia, nestled at the foot of picturesque Camelback Mountain and home to one of the area’s premier spas, Joya Spa.


See/Do

Soaring hundreds of feet above the Sonoran Desert in a colorful hot air balloon is an amazing way to experience the beauty of the Phoenix area. Hot Air Expeditions is one of the area’s leading hot air balloon operators and offers morning and sunset flights (November through March).

Of course there is plenty to see and do with your feet firmly planted on solid ground.

Among the Phoenix area top attractions are the Heard Museum, dedicated to the art and culture of Native people of the Southwest; the Phoenix Art Museum, with more than 17,000 artworks in American, Asian, contemporary, European, Latin American, and Western American art, plus fashion design and the Thorne Miniature Rooms of historic interiors; and the Desert Botanical Garden, where visitors can explore 10,000 plants - including many rare species - across 140 acres. In addition, The Musical Instrument Museum recently opened and has quickly established itself as a "must do."


Eat

From the casual to the refined to the simply outstanding, your options for dining in Greater Phoenix abound.

Zinburger in Biltmore Fashion Park (Phoenix) is the place to go for tasty burgers and shakes. For some Latin flavors, The Mission (Scottsdale) and the lesbian-owned Barrio Cafe (Phoenix) will have your tastebuds dancing with excitement.

Other popular gay-owned Phoenix dining destinations include Fez, a stylish restaurant and lounge serving Mediterranean fare, and Cheuvront, which features an extensive wine list, award-winning artisan cheese selection and a eclectic menu. Cheuvront is owned by Ken Cheuvront, an openly gay member of Arizona’s state legislature.

In Tempe, home to Arizona State University, Bocca Urban Pizzeria & Wine Bar is a foodie oasis in the city’s bustling Mill Avenue District.


Play

Like Greater Phoenix, gay nightlife is spread across the area. And there are plenty of places to stomp your heels, shake your booty, and have a good time.

The chic and trendy flock to downtown Phoenix to Amsterdam for its high energy dance floor and large outdoor patio. Other Phoenix hotspots include, Charlie’s, an urban country-western bar; Karamba, which offers one of the best Latin gay dance nights; and Roscoe’s, a casual gay sports bar.

In Scottsdale, BS West has been a fixture for many years and continues to draw fun crowds for its weekly schedule of drag shows, karaoke and go-go boys.

Major annual events include the Arizona Gay Rodeo Association’s RoadRunner Regional Rodeo and the Phoenix Pride Festival and Parade.

More information on all that Great Phoenix has to offer gay visitors is available at www.visitphoenix.com.


Troy Petenbrink resides in Washington, DC and is a member of the North American Travel Journalists Association. You can follow him on Twitter: http://twitter.com/thegaytraveler

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