THE STATISTICS stood out because they were so surprising and, to some extent, counterintuitive. Community Marketing Inc., a San Francisco-based firm, conducted research in 2004 on behalf of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority and arrived at this stunning result: Sin City was the No. 2 most popular travel destination for gays and lesbians.
Yes, No. 2. Behind New York City but ahead of such obvious GLBT meccas as San Francisco, West Hollywood and South Florida.
The results were unexpected because, at that point, Vegas hadn't made an aggressive play for the gay dollar. This was before Bette, Cher or Elton John arrived, before a cadre of Broadway shows opened, before the Las Vegas authority entered a float of showboys and showgirls in New York's gay pride parade.
What, Community Marketing Chief Executive Thomas Roth wondered, would happen if Vegas actually tried?
And so last year Roth created Gay Days & Nights Las Vegas, four days of parties, shows and other activities aimed at turning the Fourth of July weekend into the Vegas equivalent of Gay Days at Disneyland. Roth expects more than 3,000 attendees for the second annual event, this year July 3-6.
"The numbers may not sound huge, but the response was so great . . . our first year, and we think this will grow into one of the largest gay events in the country," Roth says.
Also hoping so are the Paris Las Vegas resort and Cirque du Soleil, both of which have become leading figures in the effort. Paris is owned by Harrah's Entertainment, a company that in 2006 began marketing the French-themed hotel in media aimed at gay, lesbian, bisexual and transsexual/transgender people. This year, Paris is the host hotel, offering a 20% discount on rooms to Gay Days & Nights attendees, and will throw the French Kiss party -- including an underwear fashion show -- at its nightclub, Risqué.
"It's a time of year where Las Vegas can use a boost," says Michael Weaver, Paris' vice president of marketing. "We want gay tourists to enjoy themselves and leave believing Las Vegas wants their business and to tell other people."
Other activities include deals on four of Cirque's five shows ("O" is excluded) or their merchandise, a blackjack tournament, day trips to regional sites by a lesbian tour operator, socials at bars and shopping bargains citywide.
"Everything is a la carte, unlike the classic circuit party where everybody's together all the time and there's 10,000 throbbing bodies in a convention center or something," Roth says. "Nobody has to buy a package to participate."
Roth and Weaver don't expect a backlash from straight travelers, many from conservative locales, who view Vegas as a place for heterosexual debauchery.
"The likelihood that someone encounters their first gay couple in Las Vegas is increasingly remote," says Weaver. "We have had people write to us to say, 'I've heard that you're advertising to gays and lesbians and I don't think that's right.' The response from the top of the company on down has been, 'We want to appeal to everyone.' "
Steve Friess wrote the GLBT travel guide "Gay Vegas."
GAY DAYS & NIGHTS LAS VEGAS WHEN: July 3-6 WHERE: Host hotel and welcome suite is at Paris Las Vegas, 3655 Las Vegas Blvd S. Events around the city at bars, clubs, shows. PRICE: Varies INFO: (415) 437-3800, gaydays