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2009 was a brutal year for tourism in Puerto Vallarta. A sharp decline in tourism – which happened due to the H1N1 flu scare, and a perceived increase in cartel violence, had impacted the city deeply.
And for a city that depends on tourism as one of its main sources of income for its residents, Director of Tourism, Carlos Gerard Guzman was under pressure to find new ways to get visitors to Vallarta. The city also swung into action with some major investment projects, including the new pier, and new, larger sidewalks in Zona Romantica.
Gustavo Rivas-Solis, who was the account director for the Tourism Board for Latitude, the Board’s PR agency, remembers proposing several times the idea to launch a LGBTQ+ tourism campaign.
He felt like it was a natural fit – Puerto Vallarta had always been a gay friendly destination.
The Puerto Vallarta Tourism Board was established in 1996 as a stand alone public organization to connect travel agents, operators and other tourism partners across the city to champion the tourism sector. The state of Jalisco established an initial two percent lodging tax to help generate revenue to promote the destination to international travel markets and boost its connectivity.
Finally, in 2012, Rivas-Solis explained, the Tourism Board agreed to new LGBTQ+ tourism campaign after a presentation by the Latitude’s CEO, Nathalie Pilovetzky, where he talked about the potential impact the LGBTQ+ tourism could have on the city’s tourism.
Their strategy included inviting LGBTQ+ media to the city, and multiple outreach events promoting the city.
The first promotion was carried out from April 15 to June 15, 2012, in publications such as Here! Media, including the Advocate, Out Traveler and gay.com as well as the GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) awards events on March 24, 2012 in New York and June 2, 2012 in San Francisco respectively.
In 2013 the Tourism Board joined the IGLTA (International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association), becoming the first and only Mexican destination member (until 2016 when Cancun joined).
It took a few years of hard work but the campaign’s success was beyond what the organizers could have imagined.
In 2014, Puerto Vallarta became the first Mexican destination to participate in World Pride in Toronto, Canada. It did so with its Noche Alegre event; and in 2015 the tourism board became the first destination to sponsor the Human Rights Campaign on a national level.
In 2015 a record year was set for Puerto Vallarta with an occupancy rate of a 66.9% hotel occupancy rate reported by the Hotel Association.
In May 2016, Puerto Vallarta was honored as the first city in Mexico to be granted Gay Travel Approved℠ status by GayTravel.com. In 2016, The New York Times’ Ondine Cohane said Puerto Vallarta was among the most LGBT-friendly destinations “south of the border”.
“Puerto Vallarta has organically grown to be a leading LGBT destination because of the destination’s natural beauty, our locals’ ability to embrace people from all walks of life and world-class infrastructure,” said Agustin Alvarez, the then director of the Puerto Vallarta Tourism Board in 2016. “With over 70 businesses actively promoting themselves to LGBT visitors and their allies, the granting of Gay Travel Approved status by GayTravel.com is a recognition of our destination’s commitment to high-quality services and all-welcoming spirit.”
“The city is Mexico’s only beach destination that boasts a gayborhood in its Zona Romantica,” Rivas-Solis said. “Puerto Vallarta has been celebrated as the premiere vacation destination for the LGBT community in Mexico.
The country’s first IGLTA member in 2014, it was also honored as the first city in Mexico to be granted Gay Travel Approved status by GayTravel.com. In August of 2016, a survey pertaining to gay summer travel conducted by the New York Times and SCRUFF, one of the leading gay dating apps in the world (with 10 million members worldwide) highlighted Puerto Vallarta as its “surprisingly gay friendly” travel destination in the world and Gay Cities readers named it their Fun in the Sun Destination at its Best of Gay Cities best of 2016 poll.
Puerto Vallarta was also named an International LGBTQ Destination at tourism industry awards Travvy Awards 2017. I am so proud of that work, all those awards and recognitions were a result of the campaign.”
For the first half of 2023 the city had achieved a 77% hotel occupancy rate, and an average daily volume in its airport of more than 14,000 people. Construction has already begun on a new terminal at the Gustavo Diaz Airport, to help manage the growing number of visitors.
Luis Villasenor, current director of the Tourism Board, said the future continued to look bright for Vallarta’s tourism
Villasenor has been working in a variety of roles for the Tourism Board since 2007. He was named its director in 2020. He’s seen the ups and downs of tourism over the years and understands the different trends that travelers take.
As a native son of Puerto Vallarta, he studied International Relations at the Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Occidente (ITESO), in Guadalajara, Jalisco, and is proud to be able to promote his home city.
He said that not only as the Tourism Board been promoting the destination ast LGBTQ+ friendly, it has been leading with respect and inclusion. He explained that the city welcomed all travelers that respect the Vallartian lifestyle, culture and traditions.