Roll out the rainbow carpet — It’s gonna be a gay old time in Akron, Ohio!

images-1.jpgNever thought I’d see the day. I mean, this is Ohio, ya know.

This is the state whose Religious Right put W back in the White House. The state that has recurring debates over the teaching of “intelligent design” (aka, the Book of Genesis) in our science classes. Doh!

We’re also the state in which progressive universities like my own continue to images-2.jpgdeny benefits to domestic partners of employees, fearful of being bitch slapped by our intolerant legislators.

So imagine my surprise at learning that our local metropolis, Akron, is launching a promotional campaign to attract gay tourists to the city (link expires 7/22). While this campaign would hardly raise an eyebrow in more progressive locales, here in Ohio it’s radical social engineering. And not surprisingly, it’s the lead story in the local newspaper today.

The Akron/Summit County Convention & Visitors Bureau says it’ll meet with gay-friendly businesses and organizations next week to learn what types of incentives it should offer gay and lesbian travelers. Local promoters are taking the campaign seriously, saying the gay travel market is a lucrative one. A study by the Travel Industry Association of America says gay males are big spenders when they hit the road. But they also look for destinations that are hospitable to gays.

Ohio has some work to do on that count, but this move by the Akron CVB is a start.

Even if the city’s primary motivation is money, it took some cajones to launch a pro-gay campaign in a state renowned for its homophobia. So let me offer a big “high five” to the Akron CVB and see if I can’t use this post to cajole our very progressive friends in Cincinnati to raise that rainbow flag along with us. I mean, they do call Cinci the Queen City, right?

Hey, maybe Akron’s campaign for gay tourism is devine intervention. Maybe it signals a reversal of fortune for America’s Heartland. Who knows, maybe next year the Browns will win the Super Bowl.

images1.jpgSorry, I got carried away. We’re talking about positive social change here, not certified miracles.

Besides, Steelers rule!

Update from the Akron Beacon Journal, July 21, 2007:

Jim Mahon, spokesman for the Akron/Summit Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the meeting scheduled for Wednesday to discuss attracting GLBT travelers was canceled for lack of interest.

Mahon said his office sent out 600 invitations to people in the gay community and businesses that are owned by gays or are gay friendly. But only 20 people — or 3 percent — said they would attend.

14 Responses to Roll out the rainbow carpet — It’s gonna be a gay old time in Akron, Ohio!

  1. Andy Curran says:

    Other than paying people large sums of money, I’m not sure anything will entice people to vacation in Akron, be they gay, straight, or bi. Check out this potential itinerary:

    Day 1: An Aeros game…OK, I can dig that. I already have, actually.

    Day 2: A tour of the closed tire factories.

    Day 3: Searching the sky for a glimpse of the blimp.

    Day 4: Well?

  2. Bill Sledzik says:

    I’m not gonna be a shill for Akron, but there is a lot to do here — outdoor recreation, theater and the arts and some pretty decent gin mills. It might surprise you, but then at our age, we don’t get out much.

  3. Andy Curran says:

    In all seriousness, they’ve got their work cut out for them. It’s just not a spot a lot of people think about when they think “travel destination.” Just about every top-75 metro area has outdoor recreation, theater, arts, and great bars. You need some “killer attractions” to set yourself apart. AA baseball and the river that caught fire aren’t enough. Akron is one of those cities that is a recurring punchline in late-night talk show monologues. It might be a swell place, but perception is reality. Cincinnati has hell of a lot more going for it than Akron does, but most people don’t consider it to be a travel destination, either. People still flock to Vegas, Yellowstone, Myrtle Beach, NYC, Florida, the Smokies, Bourbon Street, and the other usual vacation suspects. Just an observation…no insult intended…every city has its jewels and its warts.

  4. Sarah Wurrey says:

    Is Akron anywhere near Cedar Point? Because it doens’t matter what one’s orientation is–that place is the bomb, and reason enough to go to Ohio!

  5. Heather Bing says:

    Hi Professor Sledzik! I also thought this campaign was interesting, and I’m looking forward to seeing what media coverage continues/ensues. One of the accounts here is Cleveland+, http://www.clevelandplus.com/indexcz.asp, which looks at things to do in Cleveland and the surrounding areas in Northeast Ohio, especially Akron. (Sarah, Cedar Point is definitely part of that campaign!) I might ask around and see if we’re tagging along with this new campaign or not.

  6. Matt Smith says:

    Good for OHIO (my birthplace)!!! It’s about time they step into the 20th century (yeah, I know it’s the 21st century) and become a little more progressive and tolerant.

  7. I’d like to join in the cheer for Ohio. Anything that helps to raise Akron’s profile in a positive way is great. Akron and NE Ohio is like a little secret that I’ve found and I’m trying to spread the word!

    I’m from a city that is a wonderful destination for the world whether your straight, gay, bi, transexual or whatever and I while my city (Toronto) is dear to me I am really in love with Akron and the Cleveland area. Everything is so accessible and your parks, many of your schools and communities are so beautiful. Residents really have so much cultural and natural resources right where they live. Most importantly for me, Akron and Cleveland area communities generate a real wonderful hometown feeling that I appreciate. We visit some part of Ohio almost every summer and my heart is stuck on Akron and NE Ohio.

  8. Oh – one other thing, we are so hooked on NE Ohio that we wake up each morning to WKSU’s morning NPR broadcast (we connect through their website). EVERY MORNING.

  9. Stacy Wessels says:

    I agree with Andy. I found Akron a great place to live but I can’t imagine why anyone would vacation there. Cincinnati, too. I think of the cities in this area I’ve visited for a weekend and why: Pittsburgh for Ikea and the Warhol museum; Columbus and shopping at Easton… Yep. That’s pretty much it. Other weekends were spent in real cities, like Chicago. I’ve always wondered why every city thinks it should be a vacation destination. What’s wrong with being a nice place to live? Can’t that reputation bring money to the city? More, I would think, because a strong economy and high quality of life bring people to stay — not just drop a few busk over a weekend. Then again, Ohio’s economy being not so good maybe it’s easier to find money to throw at tourism for short-term gain.

  10. Stacy Wessels says:

    “busk” is slang for bucks

    It could be. Somewhere.

  11. Matt Smith says:

    Stacy,
    I agree with you, in regards to your comment on Cincinnati.

    I was born there and spent a few years there as a young child. I can’t imagine being in PR in Cincinnati. It’s a non-creative town with no outlet for creative folks. My relatives try to pull me back there to live, but I couldn’t imagine living there. I go back often and read the Enquirer and Post…it’s just bad. I wouldn’t want to visit there, and if I did stay overnight, it’d be in Newport, KY.

    I wish people would wake up from the 50’s out there and become more progressive.

  12. It’s interesting to be a transplant in NEO, having been born in NYC, grown up in LA and lived 9 years in Seattle prior to here. The only people who seem really surprised that the lovely Mrs. Williams and I like it here are people born and raised here.

    Stacy, the idea of attracting vacationers is cash — them what’s got money to spend can spend it here, and pay the bed tax, sales tax, and venue tax… Residents pay income tax and sales tax, but the per-person take is pretty high on a visitor.

    Of course, what constitutes a good place to holiday? We take a week each year to be tourists in our own region — the hiking and biking, the funky neighborhoods, the oddball shops and interesting restaurants. The CV national park (the river caught fire 40 years ago.. let it go…), The Lake. Canoeing. Camping. Antiquing. Amish country. Hale Farm. The Holden Arboretum. The Cleveland Museums of Art, Natural History, Crawford Auto-Aviation, Botanical Garden, the Zoos. Akron is 35 miles south of downtown Cleveland, so it’s a good spot to explore from — the Football Hall of Fame is just south.
    Never will I compare Akron with Chicago – but if you’ve done the bigger cities ($$$) and want to explore less frantically… Could do worse than Akron.

  13. Stacy Wessels says:

    Maybe they should have waited for feedback before making their big announcement. Timing can be crucial.

  14. Bill Sledzik says:

    Posted after the update:

    It does seem pretty fundamental, doesn’t it? A PR pro with any savvy always asks, “OK, what can go wrong here?” I’m sure they thought about possible criticism from the homophobic sector. But they clearly didn’t think what happens if no one gives a damn about their plan. Now they know.

    Too bad. But, hey, we’ll always have the Soap Box Derby!

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