Though the importance of gay tourism is highlighted in Vancouver’s new Tourism Master Plan, community members say more must be done to attract gay visitors to the city.
“It’s vital,” says Councillor Tim Stevenson. “Gay tourism is a big market.”
Vancouver needs to take advantage of that and market itself more as a gay destination, Stevenson says.
“That’s why I’m so keen on making sure the gay village remains and that there are gay businesses,” he notes.
The Tourism Master Plan is a joint effort by Tourism Vancouver, the City of Vancouver and the Vancouver Economic Commission to guide the development of the city’s tourism industry.
The plan is intended to analyze gaps, identify opportunities and establish priorities in the city’s tourism economy.
In the report, "LGBT Tourism" is noted as one of 12 key areas highlighted, along with areas like "Creative Tourism," "Culinary Tourism" and "Health and Wellness Tourism."
The report states, "Vancouver should intensify its efforts to create and host LGBT products and visitors, including making infrastructure and aesthetic enhancements to Davie Village and the West End, and supporting events, attractions and businesses that cater to this lucrative market segment."
Gay tourism is “unequivocally” important to Tourism Vancouver, says spokesperson Rick Antonson. “We want to promote LGBT travel opportunities and the Vancouver experience."
Richard Cutting Miller, executive vice-president of Resonance Consultancy, the strategic planning company hired to lead the Tourism Master Plan process, also recognizes the importance of gay tourism.
"The West End, home of one of North America's most important Pride events, is already a leader in this area and a natural destination for visitors of all kinds,” he says. “It's exciting to contemplate how the unique character of this neighbourhood can be leveraged to attract more visitors.”
Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson agrees.
“The queer dollar is a big bonus for our city’s economy,” Robertson says. “And Pride brings people from all over the world to Vancouver.”
Work on the new tourism plan started more than a year ago and has involved more than 180 one-on-one interviews with tourism industry members and stakeholders, an online survey of more than 2,000 people, two open houses and a review of more than 400 documents and reports.
Other recommendations in the plan include establishing a product-development strategy to support existing attractions and create new tourism concepts; creating a dedicated events organization to lead, organize and manage citywide efforts in delivering year-round events; and creating a neighbourhood marketing council with business improvements areas to promote the diversity of neighbourhoods in Vancouver.
Rick Hurlbut, who has worked in the gay tourism industry for 20 years, was consulted for the plan. He says he’s pleased that the gay community is mentioned in the report but wonders how the final plan will be implemented following its release later this month.
“Until the final draft is out, I won’t know the particulars of what they’re suggesting,” he says. “There’s no obligation for them to implement anything that this report contains.”
Tourism Vancouver promises the recommendations will be implemented. “We’re committed to doing it,” Antonson says, though he notes the plan is not static and says there’s always room for more input.
Hurlbut, noting that Tourism Vancouver is largely funded by hotel taxes, would like to see some of the money spent locally by gay tourists reinvested in the gay market.
“Unless the money is earmarked for specific projects, those projects won’t happen,” he says.
“The hotel community has that influence on how the money is spent,” he adds.
But Antonson says the tourism budget is too low and marketing opportunities too many in Vancouver to allocate funds to specific markets.
“You can’t take money from cruise ships and put it back into cruise ships, and you can’t take money that comes from gay and lesbian tourism and put it back into gay and lesbian tourism,” he says.
According to Antonson, Tourism Vancouver’s annual operating budget is $13 million, unlike Toronto or Montreal, whose budgets are nearly three times higher. Of Vancouver’s budget, $10 million comes from hotel taxes.
The full list of recommendations can be viewed on the Tourism Master Plan website.