Toronto campaign targets gay American travellers

Queer, but not yet here? (To paraphrase a slogan that's bound to be heard in T.O. during this week's Gay Pride events.) The city's issuing an invitation to come on up.

Tourism Toronto launched a multifaceted initiative last Friday that’s aimed at capturing a bigger slice of the estimated $55-billion North American gay travel market. Simultaneously, the department announced that Toronto has won host duties for the 2009 Annual Convention of the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association.

The new campaign isn’t the first time the city has marketed to this demographic. But now the marketing budget has been upped by 50%, to $300,000, to blitz gay bars, restaurants and publications in New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles, as well as event sponsorships and promotional activities. Leo Burnett is doing the creative, while Starcom MediaVest Group is handling media buys.

The campaign ‘goes beyond advertising so that we are truly engaging our customers directly . . . in all four cities,’ says David Whitaker, Tourism Toronto’s president/CEO, who took office in April. He’s referring to the city’s newly established Gay Marketing Advisory Group, which is now working with more than a dozen local community leaders to give Toronto a presence at high-profile events such as the recent Gay Idol competition in Chicago.

Earlier this year, Tourism Toronto sponsored the Queer Lounge at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah, and partnered with a San Francisco gay morning radio show during ‘Freedom to Marry Week,’ when Toronto was featured. City Councillor Kyle Rae gave an on-air pitch extolling the city’s welcoming attitude to gays, and the radio exposure culminated in two couples winning a trip to Toronto to get married.

Whitaker says a critical strategic element of Tourism Toronto’s new campaign is that it markets the entire city and region to gay travellers, rather than simply promoting the downtown gay village. He adds that this approach arose out of research indicating the economic value of attracting gay Americans, who:

• Travel more frequently (98% have taken at least one overnight trip in the past 12 months, compared with 72% for heterosexual Americans);

• Stay longer (a median of 15 nights in hotels last year, compared with an average of about three nights for all US travellers);

• Spend more ($800 on average per trip, compared to $540 by non-gay travellers);

• Are more likely to hold passports (71% hold passports, which is nearly three times the overall US average of 24% – resulting in a large number of homosexual travelers being ready for the passport requirement to return to the US); and

• Travel throughout the year, not just during peak seasons (thanks to average household income of $85,000 and a median age of 44).