With Toronto’s tourist industry still struggling to recover from the SARS scare of 2003 and the lingering impact of 9/11, savvy local businesses are targeting wedding-hungry homos as a way to boost business.
The Gay Toronto Tourism Guild (GTTG) recently wrapped up a marriage-focussed campaign which saw traffic to its website, Torontopronto.com, jump from 1,200 hits a month to a peak of nearly 420,000 last August.
“If you take a look at the gay and lesbian community, gay and lesbian people don’t even think SARS,” says Ric Tremaine, GTTG president and owner of the Gloucester Square Inns. “I don’t know if straight people do, even. Toronto has missed an opportunity.”
While the federal government is willing to invest in marketing Canada to US queers, Toronto’s official tourism office hasn’t been doing the same. Tremaine says this represents a potential loss of millions of dollars to the city.
“US domestic travel represents a $54-billion industry,” says Michael Green of MasterMind Communication Strategies, the company that designed GTTG’s recent campaign. “If a city like Toronto can capture even one fraction of one percent of that type of market and spending, it could have a tremendous impact.
“This is why cities and countries all over the world are trying so desperately to attract LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans] travellers. We travel more, we have more expendable income and we travel when other segments do not. We are a very attractive market segment for the travel industry.”
Tremaine is a driving force behind the efforts to woo gay travellers to Toronto. He says that he originally was working with Tourism Toronto until it decided to withdraw from all niche marketing; it’s now focussed on rebranding Toronto as a whole.
“Tourism Toronto has employed a recovery strategy for them of rebranding Toronto and during the rebranding their hands are full,” says Tremaine. “The problem that I see is that there isn’t any reasonable response to what the brand is.”
Tremaine and other members of GTTG have invested significant amounts of their own money in the campaign. The volunteer organization also received a $150,000 grant from the provincial government as part of the SARS recovery fund, but just $25,000 from Toronto in 2003 and nothing since then.
Now, Tremaine says he wants to “go back to Tourism Toronto and say, ‘Get your finger out of the butt.’ Everyone in the world is going after gay marketing. Tourism Toronto has refused to acknowledge the gay community by not doing marketing to it.”
Tourism Toronto’s media relations manager Ellen Flowers confirms the group hasn’t targeted the queer market for the past two years. “We also used to niche market to golf and for accessibility but we stopped doing that in April 2003 during the SARS crisis.”
Flowers says that it’s possible that Tourism Toronto will revisit niche marketing in the future, but says the current focus is the rebranding campaign to be launched in May.
She admits that there is nothing about gay marriage on the Tourism Toronto website although information about the gay and lesbian community is listed in the neighbourhoods section.
The Canadian Tourism Commission (CTC) on the other hand recently announced it’d be spending at least $300,000 this year in its efforts to capture a share of the gay US travel industry.
Yolaine Dupont, CTC’s US marketing specialist, says that the promised campaign will include advertisements in US gay and lesbian publications, as well as participation in trade events.
“The theme is ‘Be the author of your own adventure,” she says.
While Dupont says the CTC campaign won’t specifically focus on Canada’s widespread legalization of same-sex marriage because of the ongoing debate over the fed’s Bill C-38, it will provide information about it on its soon-to-be launched website.