2 min

WorldPride visitors encouraged to explore beyond Toronto

St Catharines, Kingston, Prince Edward County and Sault Ste Marie/Algoma, anyone?

Kingston’s waterfront is home to a range of hotels with beautiful lake views. Credit: Timkal

With hundreds of thousands of visitors descending on Toronto for WorldPride from June 20 to 29, Canada’s leading LGBT tourism association has launched a campaign to help other Ontario destinations benefit financially from the influx of tourists.

The initiative by Travel Gay Canada (TGC) aims to extend travellers’ stays, by encouraging them to experience other Ontario LGBT-friendly destinations. The hope is that financial benefits brought by Toronto hosting this prestigious event will be spread to other parts of the province. Funding support comes from the provincial Ministry of Tourism, Sport and Culture.

TGC identified four destinations it feels are particularly suited to this initiative — St Catharines, Kingston, Prince Edward County and Sault Ste Marie/Algoma — and has worked with the locales to prepare for and serve the LGBT travel market, focusing on market-readiness assessments, diversity training, awareness programs, targeted marketing and promotions.

The destinations were chosen “based on criteria such as uniqueness of product offering and existing tourism assets,” says Darrell Schuurman, executive director of Travel Gay Canada. “But primarily, it was that there had to be interest and support from the destination in targeting the LGBT travel market. They needed to show that this was a market that they were willing to invest in and make a commitment to and that the business community and the community at large was willing to support.”

The North American LGBT travel market is a hugely lucrative one that spends more than $70 billion a year. The Canadian LGBT market alone is worth $7 billion. Taking these figures into account, WorldPride is a fantastic opportunity for Ontario destinations to promote themselves. It’s hugely important that destinations ready themselves for the market.

“What we are trying to do is educate businesses and destinations that, before they can just start promoting themselves to the LGBT consumer, they first need to make sure their house is in order,” Schuurman says. “They need to ensure that the promise they are putting out there is actually being delivered and that the expectations of the traveller are being met.

“We call this being market-ready. A big part of what we do through this program is ensure that the community at large is involved, and not just the hotels. When people visit a destination, they go beyond the four walls of the hotel,” Schuurman says. “The destination needs to be truly ready to provide a welcoming experience at all of the other touch points, such as the retail outlets, attractions, restaurants. By engaging not only the tourism industry, but local businesses, government, police, we are helping to ensure that whatever the traveller does in that destination will be a positive experience.”

To help these destinations prepare for WorldPride visitors, TGC held an LGBT travel-market information session along with stakeholder consultation sessions in each of the destinations. The information sessions helped give the community a better understanding of the LGBT travel market and its value to a community. They also conducted an LGBT diversity training workshop, which not only helps prepare a community to serve the LGBT consumer, but assists with making them a safe environment for LGBT employees. From all of this work, the community has a better understanding of who the LGBT traveller is, what they are looking for, and how to truly provide a welcoming and positive travel experience.

Schuurman notes that this investment is not simply for the 10 days of WorldPride.

“Certainly, there was interest in helping to prepare and position these destinations as LGBT-welcoming for WorldPride, but it goes beyond that,” he says. “The commitment that each destination is making is long-term; they are not just slapping a rainbow flag on the door for WorldPride, but making a commitment to the LGBT community that they want to ensure that their destinations truly are welcoming.”