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City looking ahead to a gay old time
Tourism bonanza predicted. While last Gay Games were a financial bust, hopes run high for major spinoffs here

SOURCE: The Montréal Gazette
The Gazette
Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Grégoire Thibault, whose Gay Village empire already includes a nightclub, a restaurant and a pub, is even busier than usual.

With hammer in hand, a dusty Thibault, whose booming businesses all carry the Le Parking moniker and span a block of Amherst St., is working overtime on a project to double his pub's floor space and add a second terrace by month's end.

At the same time, after buying three buildings last year, he's designing a new hotel - with 23 rooms and three suites - to go in above the restaurant and pub.

It is to open in early 2006, in time to cash in on what is being touted as the biggest tourist event to hit Montreal in years: Rendez-Vous Montreal 2006, a gay-and-lesbian athletic competition and cultural event.

"You don't invest $1 million on a hotel for one event - it's only one week or so - but I'm rushing to get the hotel ready on time," Thibault said. "I'm sure we'll be full." The bigger goal, however, is to put his fiefdom on the map for the expected future tourists the event will attract.

"I want all the new people who'll come to Montreal for Rendez-Vous to see my businesses and say, 'Next summer, I'm coming back to go to those bars, that restaurant, that hotel.' "
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The eight-day event, July 29 to Aug. 5, 2006, is to feature 32 sports - from aerobics to wrestling - and a cultural program of choirs and dance. It will be preceded by a two-day conference on gay rights. Organizers expect 16,000 entrants and 250,000 spectators.

A footnote helps explain the startling $171.8-million figure bandied about by organizers of Rendez-Vous as the estimated economic spin-offs expected from the event. "Our sources tell us that gay people spend more than regular tourists," says the footnote, on the Tourism Montreal document that shows how the agency calculated the figure.

That's why when the agency did this particular projection, it boosted by 50 per cent the amount it usually allots per expected visitor when it crunches numbers to estimate how much major events will generate in spending on hotels, restaurants and taxes.

Gay Village businesspeople say U.S. tourists think nothing of spending $3,000 U.S. apiece during the city's annual Divers/Cité festival, an event that brings in an estimated $40 million.

Still, the $171.8-million figure raises eyebrows and deserves deciphering, especially since organizers have government funding - and since such events, including one in Australia in 2002, have been financial disasters in the past.

In addition, the calculations were done before the recent announcement a similar event - the Gay Games - will take place around the same time in Chicago, smack in the middle of Rendez-Vous's key target market: the United States. Montreal was initially given the nod to hold the 2006 Gay Games, but a dispute with the Federation of Gay Games caused a split.
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The $171.8-million figure is more than the estimated spin-offs of the jazz festival, one of the city's biggest events. And it's about half of what every convention combined brought to Montreal last year.

That can be explained by the fact gay travellers are much freer spenders, said Tourism Montreal spokesperson Pierre Bellerose: "All the research shows it."

Gay and lesbian travelers tend to have more disposable income (in part because most don't have children) and they travel more, farther and for longer periods, studies show.

And at 10 days, Rendez-Vous will be longer than most other annual Montreal festivals, Bellerose added. Conventioneers, by contrast, tend to stay for shorter periods and don't spend much because they're not out and about.

But projecting economic spin-offs is not an exact science.

Tourism Montreal based its figure on organizers' projections of entrants, spectators and average length of stay, and on Statistics Canada data about what tourists typically spend - plus the 50-per-cent gay markup.

In total, those participating in and watching Rendez-Vous events are expected to spend $115.3 million on goods and services. Another $56.5 million in taxes should go to governments' coffers, allowing them to quickly recoup their sponsorship cash.

But wild discrepancies are common when it comes to economic-spinoff projections. Organizers of Atlanta's bid for the 2006 Gay Games pegged spin-offs at $500 million U.S. In Chicago, Gay Games organizers are being conservative, forecasting spinoffs at a mere $25 million U.S., based on expectations only 24,000 competitors, friends, family and tourists will take part in the event - a fraction of the numbers expected in Montreal.
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Those behind the last Gay Games, in Sydney in 2002, had projected $100 million in spinoffs. Two years later, it's unclear how much was reaped from the event, which was almost cancelled when it ran out of money.

International tourist arrivals to Australia for the month of the Gay Games jumped by 61,000, a 16-per-cent increase, compared with the same month the previous year, said Kim Moore of the Australian Tourist Commission. But "it is difficult to say what percentage of international visitors had timed their visit to coincide with the games," which attracted 13,000 entrants, Moore said.

Bellerose said comparisons to Sydney aren't appropriate.

Montreal is much better placed to attract foreigners, especially from the northeastern U.S. and Europe, he said. Sydney's games also took place during the post-9/11 tourist drought.
And Montreal's liberal attitudes and long-running big local gay events, including the Black & Blue and Divers/Cité festivals, already give the city a leg up in attracting gay travellers, he added.

Rendez-Vous plays up the city's gay-friendly reputation. Its Web site points to a 2001 survey that indicated 77 per cent of Quebecers would give gay couples the right to marry.

Montreal's tourism industry already relies on the gay market, which accounts for 600,000 to a million visitors a year and 6 to 10 per cent of the $2.5 billion tourists bring to the city annually, Tourism Montreal says.

City officials hope Rendez-Vous and the publicity it generates will give Montreal a boost as a gay-friendly destination, luring more tourists in the future.
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Rendez-Vous organizers say they are confident in the projections, which are based in part on the number of entrants and spectators at Gay Games events in North America - not Sydney.

"I think we can easily meet those numbers," said Mark Tewksbury, a former Olympic medallist in swimming who is co-president of Rendez-Vous. Already, 10,000 entrants are ready to sign up, he noted.

Montreal, which has been working on its games since 2001, could also benefit from troubles in Chicago, where organizers are starting from scratch. The city of Chicago is lukewarm about the Gay Games idea and some local gay groups are against the event, worried there is not enough time to prepare.

Tewksbury said competition from Chicago is not a problem. Montreal has a head start, is known for openness to gay culture, and there are enough athletes to go to both, he added, noting 160,000 gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people are in sports leagues worldwide.

With $4.6 million in the bank, Tewksbury said, Rendez-Vous is financially much better placed than Chicago - and than previous games, all of which have lost money. And since most of the cash is to be spent in 2006, there will be time to scale down should it be impossible to raise the $9.6 million still needed, he added.

Governments, which are simply sponsors, would not be left holding the bag if Rendez-Vous is a flop, organizers say.

In the disastrous 1976 Montreal Summer Olympic Games, it was the construction of the facilities that got the city into financial trouble, not the games, Louise Roy, chief executive of the Rendez-Vous organizing committee, noted. "The games themselves were profitable," she said. "We don't have to build anything because we're using existing facilities. The city is providing them for free."

Rendez-Vous 2006 on the Web: www.montreal2006.info
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The Outlook
Organizers and Tourism Montreal estimate participants and spectators will spend $171.8 million during Rendez-Vous. Here's how 16,000 participants and 250,000 spectators are expected to spend their money:

  • Public transit: $4.497 million
  • Private transportation: $12.107 million
  • Accommodation: $38.398 million
  • Food and drink: $29.865 million
  • Entertainment and leisure: $10.262 million
  • Miscellaneous purchases: $20.179 million
  • Local taxes: $8.4 million
  • Quebec taxes: $22.8 million
  • Federal taxes: $25.3 million

Total: $171.8 million

Source: Rendez-Vous 2006, Tourism Montreal
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Here's where some of the $6.4 million is coming from:

  • Quebec government: $1 million
  • Federal government: $1 million
  • Montreal government:$1 million
    In facilities and services, including use of city parks, Jean Drapeau Park and the Claude Robillard Centre.
  • Tourism Montreal / Greater Montreal Hotel Association: Will co-ordinate the bookings of 10,000 hotel rooms reserved for the games, with a $10-per-room-per-day fee going to the event. Up to $1 million is to be raised to pay for using the Olympic Stadium and the Palais des Congrès.
  • Société Radio-Canada: Organizers put an undisclosed value on the live coverage SRC is providing of opening and closing ceremonies, plus one hour of daily coverage.
  • Labatt: Not available

Source: Rendez-Vous 2006

Copyright (c) 2004, The Gazette


29 Jul 2006
29 Jul 2006