3 min

Tourism Toronto downplays queer edge

Ad campaign targets mainstream visitors

Tourism Toronto has decided that gay and lesbian tourists want to visit the city for the same reasons as everybody else, not for the gay village or Pride.

“Increasingly we’ve been trying to work more of our marketing to gays and lesbians into our mainstream marketing,” says Andrew Weir, Tourism Toronto’s vice president of communications. “We market to gay and lesbian travellers as sophisticated, urban travellers looking for an experience, not just coming for a gay experience.

“We don’t just say to people, ‘See our gay village.’ Toronto offers a great dining experience, culture, festivals and at the same time a strong gay community for a nightlife.”

Last year Tourism Toronto launched a $300,000 campaign with the slogan “Toronto: As Gay As It Gets.” The campaign was aimed at Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York.

Weir says he doesn’t have information on how many gay and lesbian tourists visited Toronto last year because of the campaign. He says sexual orientation is not a question Tourism Toronto asks on surveys.

But this year he says Tourism Toronto has upped its marketing budget for gay and lesbian tourists to about $500,000. For 2008, though, the organization has targeted New York City for both gay and straight tourists, with almost identical campaigns.

“The print campaign targeting the gay and lesbian market looks like our mainstream campaign,” he says.

Weir says the ads do make it clear at whom they’re targeted and are a little more “playful” than the mainstream ones. The gay and lesbian ad has a couple of tasteful Pride photos and a discreet tag reading, “You’re just an hour away from a city where absolute fabulousness meets the world’s biggest Pride celebration.” No dates are provided for Pride.

Weir says having similar campaigns offers two chances at attracting gay and lesbian tourists.

“The print advertising is running in gay and lesbian publications,” he says, “and we’re doing online marketing on sites visited by gays and lesbians who love to travel.

“But we wanted the effect of a double campaign. Because we were doing a full-court press in New York, it was a much more effective way of reaching them.”

Weir says the ads are aimed at upscale travellers.

“They talk of luxury,” he says. “We’re not trying to sell Toronto to people who don’t want what Toronto has.”

Weir says the gay and lesbian campaign did “heavy up” in June.

Weir says Tourism Toronto has also been working with the Ontario Tourism Marketing Partnership Corporation (OTMPC) to promote gay and lesbian tourism in Toronto, Ottawa and Niagara through a new guide.

Produced with Toronto travel agency Conxity, the guide does make mention of Toronto’s gay village and Pride. The guide was launched, however, on Jun 26, three days before the Pride parade.

Weir admits that the mainstream approach Tourism Toronto is taking to attract gay and lesbian visitors is not one used by every large city.

“That’s not the way every destination does it,” he says.

Pride still managed to attract a lot of visitors to the city, says Terry Mundell, the president of the Greater Toronto Hotel Association. He says downtown hotel occupancy rates were up by 8.5 percent and occupancy rates for the region were up by two percent over last year for the week of Jun 22 to 28. Mundell says that translates into an 86 percent occupancy rate downtown and a 78 percent rate for the GTA for the week.

“I think it went fairly well as it always does,” says Mundell. “Pride’s got high occupancy, it’s got high spending. We dropped our rates a little bit but the overall revenue was up. But we still have room to grow.”

Weir says Tourism Toronto will probably mount a special effort around Halloweek in October, as he says they did last year.

“Halloweek is something we can market,” he says. “Last year we brought in a whole group of gay and lesbian journalists from across North America.”

Weir says Tourism Toronto is also working with the OTMPC to prepare for the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association’s annual conference, which is being held in Toronto in 2009.

“We’re gearing up to host that very influential meeting of gay travel agents,” says Weir. “This is a great live audition.”

Weir also says he’s not worried about Toronto losing queer visitors to California now that the state is allowing same-sex marriages.

“Toronto’s going to win in this market by being a great destination,” he says. “Nothing’s ever going to take away the fact that the first gay marriage in North America was here and that means something.

“We’re not going to lose our place because other areas are modernizing their laws.”