May 12, 2016
My name is Michael Doughman, and I am happy to be with you this evening, to share the story of my work with the Dallas Convention and Visitors Bureau and how that work led to the creation of the International Gay Travel Writers’ Press Tour. Understanding where you came from has a great deal to do with who you become.
In 1992, while working at the Dallas Convention and Visitors Bureau, I approached the President/CEO of the bureau, Dave Whitney, about our need to enter the market for the LGBT dollars and about programming to show Dallas’s commitment to diversity. He was in full support and we set out to see how best to make our presence known.
The budget for diversity marketing was small and so the value of what we spent had to have maximum impact for dollars spent. There was a struggle within the agency on how to handle things like the presentation of the gay community without actually saying the word gay. And words such as lesbian, bisexual or transgendered didn’t even make it into the conversation. Eventually they decided the safest way to present the GLBT community was to create a minority catch-all word and call it the “diversity” pages of the website. It was a weak attempt at best, but at least it was a start.
After much conversation and a change of executive staffing at the Dallas Convention and Visitors Bureau, we were proceeding with the full support of Philip Jones, the current President/CEO.
Philip came to us from Louisiana where he had great success working with the LGBT community. Shortly after he arrived, he brought a friend who had worked with him in Louisiana, Ross Crusemann, to be our new V.P. of Marketing and Public Relations. Then the conversation began planning on how to best utilize our minimal funds to reach out to the prospective LGBT clientele.
After exhaustive discussion on how to best reach the market and avoid too much push-back from the conservatives in the travel & convention industry, I proposed that a Travel Writers press trip would be our best route. Travel writers, and gay travel writer in particular, are highly trusted by their readers and followers, and I was confident that Dallas had more than enough positive things to show these writers and that they would leave our city with a new, enlightened and enthusiastic viewpoint. As it turned out, that was exactly what happened (but I’ll talk about that a little later).
While planning the first gay travel writers’ press tour, the only remaining roadblock was the funding. There wasn’t enough money to produce a quality press trip. That is the point in time when I left the proposed CVB project to become the full-time Executive Director of the Dallas Tavern Guild.
A year later, I went back to the CVB to inquire as to the progress of a LGBT press trip and they stated they still did not have the funding. At that point I asked if they would partner with the Dallas Tavern Guild if I found the funding. This was most agreeable to them and they were willing to put the Dallas CVB logo and stamp of approval on the project. This was a significant moment in history: The Dallas Convention and Visitors Bureau was willing to openly partner with the gay-identified Dallas Tavern Guild. This was a major step forward for the gay community; another step toward our assimilation into the mainstream business community.
Although gay travel writers, when initially approached in 2004, were apprehensive about including Dallas as an LGBT vacation travel destination, several prominent writers agreed to come and check it out for themselves. The press trip gained momentum very quickly and word spread among the media and travel industry. I found that I was actually being approached by writers from all over the world to be included on a Dallas Press Trip. Dallas was beginning to get noticed on an international level, and the Dallas GLBT community was the center of that attention. With strong support from our partners at American Airlines, who had been onboard since the press trip’s inception, Betty Young and George Carrancho, helped expanded the press trips to include writers from around the globe.
When we began the press trips, Dallas was not on any LGBT studies as far as popular destinations, or for anything attributed to the LGBT community in a positive way. Since many negative impressions were created by Texas politicians, in regard to their disrespect for the GLBT community, the outside view of Dallas was very negative and it was widely considered to be unsafe for LGBT travelers. As the years passed and our press trips continued to gain favor and positive reviews, Dallas started to appear on positive LGBT lists such as:
---Best New Destination for LGBT travelers - CMI LGBT Survey, 1996
---Best Cities for same-sex couples to raise a family – N.Y. Univ. Study, 2008
---Best LGBT Dining and Nightlife - Instinct Magazine - 1998
---Best Gayborhood in the USA – Online FaceBook Survey - 2013
Each Spring, we entertained the very best of the best in the travel writing and LGBT media and hosted extremely well organized, well-researched and highly popular excursions. The list of publications, the cities and countries who sent writers and the names of the many top-notch writers is far too numerous to mention here but I have made a complete list of all of those available to the archives. But just to mention a few of my personal favorites are Fabrice Tasendo of Here Media, in Los Angeles; Richard Burnett of Fuques Magazine and Three Dollar Bill in Montreal; JD VanZyl and Doug Mayo of London; Pablo DeLuca and Gustavo Noguera of Buenos Aires; Christophe Lopez of Marseilles; Tanya Churchmuch of Montreal and Andrew Collins of Portland Oregon. Magazines from 19 US cities as well as publications from London, Paris, Barcelona, Mexico City, Sao Paulo, Berlin, Austria, Switzerland, and Canada were represented.
We undertook an expansion to include Ft. Worth in 2010 with a daytrip to the Stockyards, various Art Museums, Billy Bob’s Texas, and Joe T. Garcia's Mexican Restaurant. In 2013 we added an overnight stay at the beautiful Wildcatter Ranch in Graham, Texas. The press trip that included both Dallas & Ft Worth was hugely popular with all the travel writers and they were unanimous in the fact that the two cities fully complimented each other. Together these 2 cities made for a really special vacation destination.
This was something I was very proud of as we were promoting all of North Texas to our many LGBT visitors. Many of the writers submitted articles to multiple publications as well as various online blogs and travel websites. Our listing of nightclubs and the date of our annual Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade and Festival in the Park were added to calendars and directory listings around the world. Many international publications still post our Pride and clubs annually on their events calendars. They e-mail me regularly, wanting news updates and information on any new venues, clubs, or places of interest so they can re-post updated articles on Dallas.
Each year I sent a questionnaire for the invited writers to complete. This questionnaire asked what they wanted to see and do, what things were of most interest and what were their favorite foods and recreational activities. Also at the end of each trip I sent another questionnaire asking what impressed them most and the least. It also asked what they enjoyed the most and the least, and what they would like added or dropped from the trip for the future. All of this information was compiled into a database, and as we started to review the finished product there were three things that, each and every year, were the most commented on and rated as the best parts of their visit.
The third most-mentioned was the impressive architecture and how remarkable world-class architects had made their mark on Dallas. The second most-mentioned was how impressed they were with the integration of the men and women within our community and how many women there were in leadership positions in our city’s LGBT community as well as mainstream community. Ladies and gentlemen, this cannot be stressed highly enough. The Dallas GLBT community is recognized, world-wide, as having the most cooperative atmosphere of anywhere in the world. I hope you are proud of that, and I hope each of you will continue to do everything you can to preserve this wonderful distinction.
And lastly, the most mentioned and admired thing of everyone’s visit were the people of Dallas themselves. Not only the women & men of our LGBT community but the women & men they met across the entirety of their visit. They were overwhelmed by the genuine hospitality and warmth of the people in Dallas and FT. Worth.
Of all the things the press trips accomplished that is what I am most proud of. It is you people, here tonight, because most of you have been a part of one or more of those press trips and have made the writers from all around the world feel so welcome and immediately at home. Please continue to do all you do to make this city a great place. You are the people who make this city great, and I am very grateful.
I regret to report: at this juncture, the annual press trip has been suspended. The Dallas CVB did produce a GLBT press trip last year, but it did not include Ft. Worth. There are no plans at this time to have a press trip in 2016. I am saddened by this development but with the loss of airline sponsorship and loss of funding from the CVB, it is not possible to continue this great tradition. After 11 years of hard work and much success in shining a bright light on the city of Dallas as a world-class destination for LGBT business and leisure travelers, the press tour is in a state of limbo.
It is my sincere hope that perhaps anyone with connections to the airline industry could connect us with a new source of transportation for future writers and we can re-instate the International Press Trip. I don’t want us to be out of the conversation too long or people will forget about us. We have worked so hard to build up the many wonderful things about our city. I’m sure that we can find the other funding that the CVB used to give us and return this great tradition to its former success.
In closing, I just want to say that this project, although near and dear to my heart, is not the only issue I am committed to these days. Educating our community and the community at large about trans issues has become an important cause I am working to support. Also, promoting the practice of mentoring the youth of our community and teaching them about our history. Understanding where you came from has a great deal to do with who you become.
I believe there are many worthwhile causes out there and I hope that each of you here tonight is involved in at least one of them. Stand up, speak out and become a problem solver. In my personal opinion, there is nothing sadder than having lived an entire lifetime only to leave behind a legacy that you were one voice that was never heard. Instead, let’s make a commitment to do something, each and every day, to make the lives of people we see and touch, better in some way. Let’s make all of our legacies this: We made the world around us a better place for our having been in it.