Tax-Funded Richmond Visitors Bureau Promotes Campaign to Attract Homosexuals to Virginia’s Capital

September 14, 2010 - 4:30 AM

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(CNSNews.com) – The Richmond Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau (RMCVB), which is funded in part by hotel taxes, is promoting an initiative by local businesses to attract homosexuals to Virginia’s capital.

The “Rainbow Over Richmond” campaign launched on Aug. 29 as a landing page on the RMCVB’s Web site.

According to the RMCVB Web site, the organization’s “primary funding” comes from a tax that hotel guests pay for lodging in five localities that make up the Richmond region – a transient lodging tax. “The RMCVB receives 1.75 percent of the transient lodging sales in the Richmond region,” states the Web site.

Jay White, spokesman for the ad hoc group of Richmond area businesses that conceived the Rainbow Over Richmond tourism campaign, said the group paid for it by sponsoring the Web page and other advertising venues in order to bring in some of the $55 billion that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals reportedly spend on domestic travel and tourism each year.

“This is just an initiative that a group of local business owners, representatives from various museums and attractions and I put together over the last year, year and a half,” White told CNSNews.com. “We’ve looked at declining occupancy rates; we’ve looked at declining income at the various attractions around Richmond and thought, ‘How can we get an influx of funds?’”

White said that the idea is modeled on the same kind of campaigns to attract the LGBT community -- and the travel dollars they spend -- to Virginia’s capital.

“Basically, it’s financial consideration to gather resources to create the initiative,” White said. “This is not a political consideration, it’s an economic consideration.”

Although the Rainbow Over Richmond campaign is promoted through rainbowoverrichmond.com, the Web address defaults to a landing page at the RMCVB Web site and is similar to other pages on the site.

The bottom of the Rainbow Over Richmond page, for example, provides information about the RMCVB, its address, a 1-800 telephone number, a site map, privacy policy, a “Contact Us” link and an “About the Richmond Region” link.

On the Rainbow Over Richmond page is a headline promoting “30 Events in 60 days” and features what it calls “gay friendly” events and venues, including a restaurant that offers a “drag brunch” on Sundays. It also has links to other homosexual Web sites, including GayRVA.com, a Web site dedicated to gay events and issues in the Richmond region.

Erin Bagnell, public relations manager for the RMCVB, and Jennifer Carnam, vice president of marketing, confirmed that although White and other sponsors are funding the Rainbow Over Richmond campaign, hotel tax funding is used to pay for all of the RMCVB’s operating costs, including its Web site and the pages it hosts and promotes.

Bagnell and Carnam told CNSNews.com that this mission of RMCVB is to promote and support all efforts to increase tourism in the Richmond region, be it an item added by a local arts group on its Web site calendar or by hosting a landing page on its Web site for initiatives like Rainbow Over Richmond.

CNSNews.com asked Bagnell and Carnam, “According to your Web site, your organization is funded in part by lodging, a portion of the lodging taxes from people who come and stay in hotels in Richmond, correct?” 

Carnam answered, “Yes.”

CNSNews.com also asked the following: “If you go to Rainbow Over Richmond, you end up on your Web site [a landing page for Rainbow site], so your organization is funded – everything you do, whether it’s your personnel, office space, your Web site, your utilities – that a portion of what you do as a group, as a non-profit, a portion of your income is from lodging taxes? Correct?”

Carnam answered, “Correct.”

“That’s what we’re charged with at the convention and visitors bureau; to drive people to this area,” Bagnell said.

 “We’re a welcoming destination,” Bagnell said. “We are welcoming to all.”

“Our goal is to promote the Richmond region as a welcoming destination, whether you’re coming for a family with your kids from the Washington, D.C., area or whether you’re bringing your family reunion, or whether you have a religious conference,” Carnam said. “We’re one of the top destinations for religious organizations who come here and use our convention center.”