Today, Mardi Gras is framed, at least in part, within a global gay and lesbian tourism industry that craves a bigger and better parade each year. It’s unlikely that any of the heroic individuals caught up in the brutal riot on the night of 24 June, 1978 would have had much of an inkling that Mardi Gras would become one of the world’s most spectacular and enduring gay pride parades.
Nor would they have likely imagined that the parade and the festival would attract thousands of tourists from across Australia and the world making it one of the most attended annually occurring special events in the country.
In the late 1970s gays and lesbians were a marginalised and oppressed community struggling for law reform and social acceptance. We were still a decade or so away from becoming a recognisable market segmentto be strategically targeted by companies selling top-shelf alcohol, boutique holidays and hair remover.
Yet within a little more than a decade following the 1978 riot, the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Festival and Parade nourished the emergence of a budding gay and lesbian tourism industry, paralleling the emergence of the “gay consumer”. Mardi Gras has played a crucial role in the emergence of Australia, and, in particular, Sydney, as an internationally recognised gay and lesbian tourist destination. This led to the successful bid, and hosting, of the International Gay Games in 2002.
How the festival inspired others
In 1999, Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Ltd, which was the entity organising the festival at the time, launched its own gay and lesbian travel agency - Mardi Gras Travel. This development, although short lived, nevertheless strengthened the sometimes contradictory connection between Mardi Gras as a grassroots community festival and the tourism industry with its overtly commercial preoccupations.
The United Nations World Tourism Organisation report on LGBT tourism describes the market as robust and resilient, comprising relatively cashed up consumers with deep pockets and a strong desire to travel. And who like to party.
A study from the early 1990s estimated the economic impact of Mardi Gras to Sydney to be around A$30 million. Acknowledging its significant social, cultural and economic impact, the City of Sydney recognised Mardi Gras as a hallmark event in the early 1990s.
These hallmark events and festivals are powerful drivers for LGBT tourism. LGBT destinations are linked globally by an extensive calendar that includes more than 1,000 pride events, film festivals, circuit-parties, International Gay Games, and the Gay Day phenomenon. Read more via the Conversation