Voting along party lines, Vancouver city council rejected a motion Jul 24 brought by gay councillor Tim Stevenson that the city inject a one-time investment of $25,000 into a Tourism Vancouver marketing strategy aimed at attracting US lesbians to the city.
Outgoing Mayor Sam Sullivan voted with his five Non-Partisan Alliance (NPA) colleagues —councillors BC Lee, Elizabeth Ball, Kim Capri, Suzanne Anton and NPA mayoral candidate Peter Ladner —to turn down the request in a debate that at times included the exchange of partisan barbs.
Coalition of Progressive Electors (COPE) councillor David Cadman, along with Vision Vancouver’s Raymond Louie, Heather Deal, George Chow and Tim Stevenson, voted in favour of the funding.
Speaking to Xtra West three days prior to the vote, Stevenson said the idea for the motion came from a report he saw from the gay and lesbian market research firm Community Marketing Inc that ranked Vancouver as the number one international destination among US lesbians.
It also ranked Vancouver fourth overall among both gay and lesbian travellers after Paris, London and Puerto Vallarta, according to Stevenson.
“I thought this would be really an important thing to do because I think the lesbian market tends to get forgotten,” Stevenson explained.
He said he approached Tourism Vancouver about four or five months ago in a bid to “see how we might do some more promoting of our community” — particularly in the US.
Tourism Vancouver’s manager of consumer marketing, Candice Gibson, who spoke in support of Stevenson’s motion at council, said the $25,000 infusion would help complete her organization’s marketing to the queer community.
“We have got a few gaps in speaking directly to the lesbian community,” she admitted.
In her presentation, Gibson indicated that US lesbians take a minimum of five trips annually, seek urban destinations that are gay-friendly, have lesbian neighbourhoods and cultural events, and are safe and family-friendly —all of which, Gibson said, make Vancouver “a very good fit for the market.”
With the Olympics coming to town in 2010, Gibson added, Tourism Vancouver’s partner support and consumer budget will soon be reallocated, which may mean fewer dollars targeting the gay and lesbian market.
According to Gibson, Tourism Vancouver’s annual budget is generally $14 million with $500,000 spent on consumer advertising — only $100,000 of which is earmarked for marketing to the gay community.
In comparison, Toronto Tourism launched a $300,000 campaign last year directed specifically at gay and lesbian markets in Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York.
Its slogan was: “Toronto: As Gay As It Gets.”
This year, Toronto Tourism increased its gay and lesbian marketing budget to about $500,000.
“As a destination, we will have to be even more streamlined and focused in our gay marketing overall,” Gibson said.
“So in 2008, the councillor’s initiative will go a long way in helping us build some of that focus into our current projects, and continue building our city’s momentum with gay travellers as we collectively plan for a longer term and more inclusive campaign to a consumer group being wooed by many competitive destinations with significant GLBT marketing budgets,” she continued.
NPA councillor Anton said she was “perfectly willing to agree” that the $25,000 would be a worthwhile expenditure, but had “a difficulty” with the proposal.
“I just don’t understand why we’re being asked to foot the bill for this when you have a budget of $14 million to market Vancouver in the world — and on a one-off basis” because one person asked for it, she contended.
“I have to say the motion itself puts council in an embarrassing position, to be quite frank,” she said.
Anton said she hoped somebody would take the plan forward but that it is not council’s place, nor within its ability, nor good policy to move forward on one-offs which are just a good idea.
“There is no policy argument to support this initiative,” she said.
Gibson countered that it was not a one-off initiative but part of a larger scheme of multimedia marketing.
She added that Tourism Vancouver did look internally to see if they could access additional funding but “found there was nowhere else we could take it.”
Mayoral candidate Peter Ladner said he understands that gays and lesbians represent a big and important market, but suggested that if Tourism Vancouver had thought this was a high enough priority it would have put money into it already.
“I will simply say I’m against micromanaging third party agencies on the backs of the city taxpayers based on the whim of a certain councillor, when those agencies themselves did not bring this policy forward. It has no policy framework, there’s no justification for it and I’m going to vote against it.”
Passing Stevenson’s motion would open the door to other types of funding requests that aren’t necessarily ones that the city should be considering, added NPA councillor Capri. There are other market demands for other initiatives, she said, such as people who like to travel with their dogs.
“I don’t think we are the body that should be supporting this particular ask.”
“There’s an awful lot of women that travel and they travel to Canada, and we would love to bring them up and get them a lot more involved in what we have up here,” Pride Society sponsorship coordinator Caryl Dolinko told Xtra West. “If we could grow on that, I think it would benefit the city.”
The notion that lesbians don’t have money is a misplaced one, she added.
“I think that probably 10 or 15 years ago, that was probably true. But I think that we’ve all changed. We’ve got money. We spend money. We certainly travel,” she said.
Gayvan.com’s Angus Praught, who has been involved in the tourism sector for the past 20 years, also showed up at city council to support the motion. He said what Tourism Vancouver is trying to do is very timely.
“We have a group of individuals that have self-identified their interest in Vancouver and right now is the time to target them and get this new funding to do so.”
Following the motion’s defeat, Praught said he didn’t think the vote was anti-gay, just not supportive.
Stevenson thinks the motion’s defeat is an embarrassment for city council.
“I also think that is a sign to the gay and lesbian community of a lack of support. A mere $25,000 is all they’re talking about, and possible returns of who knows how much. So happy Pride, community,” he quipped.
Stevenson got some support from COPE’s Cadman who said the city should be celebrating its designation as the number one international destination for lesbians.
“In a time and place when the tourism market is declining, in this city we need to be very aware of how important the travel industry is —this is a service city — and if we can attract a market using the fact that we’ve been identified as number one and getting that kind of publicity and exposure, I think it’s a small sum to expend to do that.”
In the end, city council voted 6-5 against the motion.
“I think this will be seen for what it is — not particular interest in the GLBT community in this city. It’s beyond me why the NPA can fund all kinds of various things of their own liking and then when it comes along to this particular community, there is not any support and there’s not financial support,” Stevenson says.