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Palm trees, white sandy beaches, and piña coladas topped with mini paper umbrellas are just a few things I picture when the word “travel” is mentioned. But there is a plethora of travel destinations for each individual’s taste, many of which are here in Canada. Whether it’s for business or for pleasure, the travel industry is a significant contributor to the Canadian economy with its $81.7-billion tourism industry. Of that large dollar figure, the LGBT travel market is worth $7 billion annually. 

“Within North America, there’s a huge market that is clearly spending money,” says Darrell Schuurman, executive director of Travel Gay Canada, a not-for-profit organization that provides opportunities for LGBT-owned and LGBT-friendly business within the tourism sector. “This alone should be an incentive enough for businesses to take a look at this market and identify it.”

Companies in the hospitality industry are encouraged to venture into new markets, and further look into the LGBT segment. “We need to make sure the [travel] industry sees this as an opportunity and something worth targeting,” says Schuurman, adding that Canada has a well positioned leadership role in diversity. “We’re going on now for over ten years since we’ve had same-sex marriages [and] we’re seen globally as a leader in LGBT human rights and inclusiveness.”

One sector that has taken advantage of the high numbers in LGBT tourism is the hotel industry. Whether an LGBT associate or guest, international hotel company Marriott is an advocate for equality, non-discrimination, and free treatment for all individuals.

“We’re all hospitality professionals and the nature of the industry is to make people feel welcomed, respected, looked-after, and treated fairly,” says Jamie Langill, sales manager at Marriott Bloor-Yorkville in Toronto. “It was founded at Marriott headquarters and got spread to a lot of different cultures and countries.”

From a market-ready perspective, Schuurman says companies must be aware of LGBT motivators and travel habits, which relates back to the associate training. “When they’re checking into a hotel, it’s the language they’re using,” he explains. “Some of it may not be intentional but the impact on the guest experience is critical,” and ensuring that staff is aware of these sensitivities is crucial.

Front-end Marriott staff members are trained through mock scenarios to prepare for diverse guest and associate interactions. Through research on the LGBT market, Langill says “100 per cent of those travellers really value is a company that supports their cause, and they tend to stay loyal to those companies that do support their cause.”

And with WorldPride in Toronto this June, there couldn’t be a more exciting time for LGBT tourism in Canada. “It’s going to be a really huge event for the city,” he says. “Toronto Pride every year is a huge event but now with World Pride here, it’s pretty exciting and it’s nice to be in the centre of a city that’s so diverse and known for LGBT acceptance.”

Travel Gay Canada has also been preparing, says Schuurman. “What we would love to see is when people are coming to Toronto for WorldPride that they also get to experience some of the other great assets that Ontario and Canada at large has to offer.”

Photo: Ryan McVay/Thinkstock