Of Nice’s past high profile mayors Jacques Médecin was rather openly homophobic while Jacques Peyrat – exception made for Elton John to whom he awarded honorary citizenship – didn’t seem very favourably inclined towards gays. Since their days things have changed. With the full support of Christian Estrosi, the Nice tourist office has been committed for some time now to a policy of offering an unambiguous welcome to the non-hetero visitor.
As Denis Zanon, the city’s director of tourism says plainly, “We must organise ourselves to win over the gay market.” On one estimate, this category involves up to 8% of those vacationing locally. Of course, this policy is as much self-interested as socially enlightened. “The gay visitor,” explains Zanon, “is likely to be relatively young, free-spending, with wide interests and unconstrained by school holidays.”
The gay travel market accounts for nearly 8% of local visitors. They are “relatively young, free-spending, and unconstrained by school holidays”What does this approach actually entail? The tourist office has consulted with American gay activist Clark Massad to ensure an appropriate welcome: “Above all, your gay client needs to be able to feel entirely at home. At a hotel reception, for example, there should be no discomfort on either side when Adam and Steve ask for a double bed – or enquire about the location of gay bars. There’s now a listing – available at information offices – of hotels, shops, bars and restaurants which are known to be actively gay-friendly.” Particular initiatives are in hand to attract “the pink euro”. “As an example,” says Zanon, “we’ve worked on a honey- moon package for couples who’ve just entered a PACS or civil union.” Recently the Rialto cinema, with the support of city hall, ran a two-week festival of gay and lesbian films. Insists Zanon, “We’re not trying to ghettoize gays but we’re just targeting them as a specific market segment.”
So how will English-speaking gays react to these developments? Over a decade and a half ago we brought out a special issue devoted to “anglophone gays on the Riviera” (Reporter 48). At that time our conclusion was that “the French are tolerant in general but in the expat community majority opinion is censorious. An openly gay couple would be received coolly at a meeting of the British Association, we imagine.” These days, many people have assured us, this is no longer the case. Over a rather short period things have changed. This maybe is why we no longer hear, as we did in the mid-nineties, of the need for an English- speaking gay club (one did get started). Today Adam and Steve can openly enjoy what’s available to them in an area singled out by Têtu magazine as one of the most gay-friendly in France.