The organization promoting tourism in Toronto admits it’s fallen far behind other cities when it comes to telling queer visitors about the city.
“We’re playing catch-up in that market,” says Andrew Weir, the vice-president of communications for Tourism Toronto. “Montreal and Vancouver and other cities are ahead of us.
“I can’t tell you why we were not actively marketing to gays and lesbians. We were for a while, then it stopped. But now we view it as a priority.”
Weir says the organization is now paying special attention to queer tourists. For example, it just inked a partnership deal with Pride Toronto to work in tandem on some projects and it has a marketing manager dedicated to attracting queer visitors.
“We have dedicated web elements, new marketing material. We’re working closely with Gay Travel Canada and the gay chamber of commerce. We’ve been advertising in New York, Chicago, San Francisco in local gay media. It’s not just a matter of slapping a rainbow on marketing products and calling it gay-friendly.”
Weir says Tourism Toronto is doubling its 2006 budget for marketing in gay publications in 2007, which was a significant increase over 2005, bringing total spending up to $300,000.
Weir says queer travellers are perfect for Toronto.
“The kind of things they want to do align very well with Toronto right now in terms of cultural events, dining experiences.”
In fact, Weir says Tourism Toronto is marketing not just the gay and lesbian aspects of Toronto, but the city as a whole.
“All of Toronto is a gay-friendly destination. A lot of destinations don’t market that way. But it’s a very deliberate strategy to market Toronto that way. It’s a very careful strategy to market the whole city, rather than to just say, ‘Come and see other gay people.'”
But Weir admits that Toronto lags far behind Montreal, which has been marketing itself to queer travellers for more than a decade. Bertin Jacques, Tourisme Montreal’s press relations manager for the gay and lesbian market, says the organization has spent more than a million dollars on promotion to the queer market since 1995.
Jacques says there are about 400,000 gay visitors each year to Montreal and Quebec City, who spend about $250 million annually. Weir says there are no such figures available for Toronto.
Jacques says Tourisme Montreal does specifically market the gay and lesbian attractions, such as Diver/Cité, Montreal’s Pride, and Bad Boy Club Montreal, which puts on Montreal’s biggest gay dance parties.
“We do work with Diver/Cité. We organize a press trip every year with Diver/Cité, five or six journalists every year, mostly from the US, but we try to get some from Europe,” he says.
Jacques says that Canada’s legalization of same-sex marriage hasn’t been a huge boost for Montreal since Quebec requires any couple — gay or straight — getting married to wait 20 days before performing the ceremony.
Weir says that Tourism Toronto uses same-sex marriage primarily to emphasize how open the city as a whole is to homos.
“We think it’s a reason people will come here. At the same time, it speaks to the kind of welcoming city it is.”
Weir adds that, despite Tourism Toronto’s strategy of promoting the city as a whole, they would like to work more closely with Pride Toronto. Now that Pride has become a Tourism Toronto member, it’s eligible to apply for the new Cultural Enhancement Program. The program will offer a million dollars each year to up to 10 new projects or significant enhancements to existing programs proposed by members. Each successful applicant will receive between $100,000 and $500,000 to match existing funds put up by the member applicant.
“We will be seriously considering making an application and proposal for Pride Week 2008,” says Jeff Zoeller, associate director of Pride Toronto.
We’re number three
The US company Community Marketing Inc surveyed 7,500 American gay and lesbian travellers to find out their favourite destinations.
Canada ranked number one as international destination, followed by Mexico, United Kingdom, France, Italy, Germany and the Netherlands.
But Toronto finished third as Americans’ favourite Canadian city to travel to, behind Vancouver (prettier?) and Montreal (sexier?).
The list was rounded out by Victoria, Quebec City, Whistler and a tie between Calgary and Halifax.