Reyes expanding Las Vegas’ gay tourism market

Sitting in her modest office at The Lakes, it occurs to Mya Reyes that her career path has led her to one of the boldest tourism initiatives the city has ever seen — a massive three-day New Year’s Eve celebration for gay men from 30 countries in mainstream resorts on the Strip.

Reyes’ new year’s event, called Evolve Vegas NYE, is 20 months in the planning and has been about all her four-person staff has worked on since the doors of the Las Vegas Gay Visitors Bureau opened in mid-2013.

“I feel that everything I’ve done in my life has brought me here, all the international travel I’ve done and the languages I have,” said Reyes, president of the bureau and founder of Evolve Vegas NYE. She is fluent in English, Spanish and French and speaks some Italian.

Reyes fully expects that the 700 Evolve packages will be sold for the inaugural event, which includes three days of shows, receptions, parties, dining experiences and shopping tours planned Dec. 30 through Jan. 1.

It’s being hosted at the MGM Grand and the highlight of the event will be a New Year’s Eve celebration at the Havana nightclub at the Tropicana.

Reyes has been a long-time advocate for gay tourism in Southern Nevada, so she didn’t need a sales pitch to convince her that the gay market is a lucrative one.

San Francisco-based Community Market Inc. has years of research explaining why the market is so robust: For gay men and women, the average household income is $81,500, about 80 percent higher than the average American household income.

About 40 percent of gay men have household incomes in excess of $100,000.

An estimated 83 percent of gay men and women have a passport compared with 34 percent of the adult U.S. population.

Gay men and women travel more widely than their mainstream counterparts, domestically and internationally, especially for leisure purposes.

Las Vegas is consistently one of the top markets for gay travel, usually No. 2 behind New York City.

Reyes has always known that the gay market has been and will be good for Las Vegas, but the difference maker for Evolve is the international component.

The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority has made the attraction of international guests a priority. The organization that markets Las Vegas to the world and McCarran International Airport have recruited airlines to provide nonstop intercontinental flights to the city.

Reyes believes the combination is a can’t-miss opportunity.

Reyes got her first taste of the international scene while studying French at UNLV. She received a degree in 1978 and got an opportunity to study abroad in a program at Paris-Sorbonne University.

She loved it.

“When I was about to leave, on my last day in Paris, I saw a sign recruiting for the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization,” she said. “I had heard that foreigners could work there relatively easily and that it wasn’t too hard to get a work card to be there.”

She ended up getting hired as a liaison between UNESCO and its member nations, and she worked directly with people from African countries.

When in Europe, she met her future husband, Bill Collins, a professional basketball player that had been drafted by the Boston Celtics and who opted to pursue a professional career in Italy. She spent her early career living in France, Spain and Italy.

She recalled once being transported to a hospital in a boat while living in Venice when she gave birth to one of her children.

Wanting to be a stay-at-home mother, she published a parenting magazine for 12 years and eventually moved back to Las Vegas.

But one thing Reyes continued to do in her last years abroad was to keep in touch with her international contacts. It was a move that would prove invaluable to her future.

Back in Las Vegas, MGM Resorts was completing a merger with Mirage Resorts International, and the new company announced its commitment to diversity.

When then-CEO Terry Lanni announced the program, Reyes was hired as director of supplier diversity. It turned out to be a golden opportunity to get in on the ground floor of MGM’s award-winning diversity program and work with Lanni.

“It was primarily about ethnic diversity and women and really didn’t encompass anything for the LGBT market,” she said.

But that came later.

She left MGM and went to work for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority as it began exploring the prospect of marketing directly to the gay market.

“I had talked with the LVCVA about being a part of that and decided that I wanted to become better educated about the market,” she said.

As a part of the agency, she became active in the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association, serving two terms on its board of directors. With members in 83 countries, Reyes was able to re-establish international contacts and make new ones.

“It was a great opportunity to expose our destination to various markets all over the world,” she said. “And, as it turned out, they were all really great people, and not only were we business partners but great personal friends.”

When Reyes retired from the LVCVA, she knew she wanted to continue to work in the industry, so she formed the Gay Visitors Bureau and went to work developing Evolve.

She hired Donovan Kaneshiro as creative strategies manager, Matt Engh as creative design manager and Fabrice Tasendo to assist with global outreach.

The bureau has travel agency contacts in 30 countries, including 500 American Express agencies in Mexico, and the Evolve website is available in Spanish, German, French, Dutch, Portuguese and Chinese as well as English.

The inaugural Evolve will include a reception with performers from Cirque du Soleil’s “Zumanity” as a preview to the show. Following the show will be an opening reception at the Strip’s first gay nightclub, Liaison, at Bally’s.

The second day offers an assortment of Southern Nevada day trips and shopping excursions and the final day includes a performance by Frank Marino followed by the New Year’s Eve celebration at the Havana club.

Packages also include an optional two-day trip to West Hollywood, Calif.

Reyes said the side trip is particularly important for international visitors who like to expand their itineraries when making a trip to the United States.

Marino, whose Strip Divas are presenting their 25,000th show this year, is excited about performing for an all-gay audience.

“This will be the first time in my 30-year Las Vegas career that I will be performing for an all-gay audience,” Marino said. “Finally, I can do pop-culture jokes that everyone will get.”

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