Cover Story

What’s Florida Really Like: Gay And Lesbians Have Different Views

Written by Richard Hack

To the LGBT world at large, Florida is known as paradise. Pictures of swaying palm trees compete with warm ocean breezes and white sand beaches as enticements for tourist travel that brings millions of gay and lesbians travelers to our shores each year. Chambers of commerce across the state target the LGBT community for its disposable income and its lust for travel, and have successfully made our state the ultimate LGBT destination in the world, routinely making top-10 lists.

But what do those who visit our sand and surf really think about the Sunshine State? Is it all hype or does the reality actually match its advance publicity? San Francisco-based CMI Community Marketing surveyed inbound tourism and found some rather amazing results.

When visitors were asked to rate a hypothetical Florida vacation, 65% gave a positive rating, with only 26% neutral, and nearly no one rating Florida negatively. That’s the good news. The bad news is that lesbian and bisexual women are far less likely to rate Florida positively—particularly when they come here from Western states.

When analyzed by identity and age, CMI was able to further identify a distinct difference between gays and lesbians’ perceptions of Florida. Fort Lauderdale rates best with older gay and bisexual men, but not as well with women. In South Florida, Miami attracts the most Millennial LGBTs, Orlando has a more even demographic distribution, Key West does well with older LGBT men and women in equal proportions, while Tampa/St. Pete/Clearwater and West Palm Beach/Boca Raton rate better with those 55+.

While no Florida location is actually viewed as unfriendly, the northern part of the state does have many areas that are in the bible belt region. Fortunately, those are not areas that encourage LGBT travel.

Overall, those that do reach out to gays and lesbians advertise their message of a warm welcome mat quite effectively. Visit Florida, the state’s official tourism marketing corporation, serves as Florida’s official source for travel planning to visitors across the globe. It is a primary source of many of the ads targeting the LGBT market. In Central Florida, Orlando and especially Tampa/St. Petersburg have a more neutral rating.

When compared with California three warm weather destinations (San Diego, Palm Springs and Los Angeles), Florida ended up a poor second with a 51% positive rating compared to California’s 68%.

While many coming to Florida were actually here to visit family and friends, it was the sizzling hot beaches that appealed to those from Canada, younger LGBTs and those living in Texas. Not surprisingly, for gay parents bringing children, it was the lure of Theme Parks that scored on their radar.

Travel with companions was heavily influenced by age and gender. Since lesbians and older gays are likelier to be in relationships, they were more likely to travel with partners. Young gay men may travel in packs, but with friends who were not romantically linked. And a new but growing category, those LGBTs who travel to Florida with parents as elder caretakers—a group that is now larger than those traveling with children.

Charts from Visit Florida tell the story graphically. It not only paints a picture of where we stand as a destination, but also the areas we need to improve upon to become the paradise we all know that Florida is.