Tourism operators and Sydney 2002 Gay Games organisers face a nervous watch over the next 200 days to see whether the numbers of tourists coming to Sydney in October and November meet projected levels.

Although overseas participant registration levels look healthy and organisers are confident that registration targets will be met, question marks hover over the number of non-competing tourists who will come to Sydney for the Games. This group of people -“ partners and friends of competitors, and those who just want to immerse themselves in the Gay Games experience -“ is critical to the success of the event.

Sydney 2002 co-chair Bev Lange gave Sydney Star Observer an indication this week of just how many non-competing tourists are expected in town in early November. Joining the 14,500 sporting and cultural event participants, she said, will be some 25,000 non-competing tourists.

But as yet bookings do not reflect anything like those numbers. Hence the nervous watch.

Gay Australia Guide editor Dominic O’Grady, who attended an international conference on gay and lesbian tourism in Los Angeles last month, gauged American interest in the Sydney Gay Games as a tourist destination.

There was quite a high interest in Australia. Everybody you meet wants to come, O’Grady said. But the anecdotal evidence is that the market is booking at the last minute. So operators are not necessarily getting the figures that they would like now in terms of bookings to Australia. They’re a little bit worried because they would like to see those bookings made now. But there is that awareness that the market is leaving it to the last minute before it books.

The Australian Tourism Commission [ATC] is working to convert the high interest levels in the Gay Games as an event into actual bookings. This week an ATC spokesperson told the Star that the Commission will launch, later this month, a $US 200,000 multimedia campaign focusing on Australia as an ideal year-round destination, [but] using the Gay Games in November as a hook.

The campaign will include newspaper, magazine and television advertising, posters, brochures and a specially-created website, gay.australia.com, the ATC spokesperson said.

The tourism industry lull following the events of 11 September continues to concern local operators, although O’Grady said anecdotal evidence suggested the gay and lesbian travel market had been less hard hit by the lull than other market segments.

Rob Wardell, the executive director of Gay and Lesbian Tourism Australia, told the Star that a post-September 11 upturn is starting, but we’re not going to see [the industry] return to pre-September 11 levels until the third quarter of this year.

Jim Provezano, a sports columnist for the San Francisco gay and lesbian community newspaper Bay Area Reporter, said that a lot of the September 11 anxiety had abated in America.

I don’t think people perceive going to Sydney as a route of terrorism; there is more concern for Americans going to Europe or countries near the middle east, Provezano said. There was a huge drop in travel [after 11 September], but now people are like -˜I want to go’. It’s a kind of stalwart American conviction that in spite of all this, we’re going on, we’re going forward, we can’t let the terrorists win.

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