December, 2011 / Author:

Biz leaders sharpening rainbow marketing strategy

What if Manitoba’s licence plate reflected what was possible for tourism in this province? The size of the Canadian LGBT travel market is substantial.  According to the Canadian Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, this market is valued at $7 billion annually.  To put that number in perspective, that’s about the size of Canada’s pharmaceutical market.  So Manitobans should be asking themselves: how many of those dollars are they capturing?  Just how “friendly” is Manitoba?

Rod Zelles of Blue Flame Ventures, a marketing firm that focuses on helping businesses attract the LGBT tourist, recently conducted a survey of Winnipeg hotels to see just how queer-friendly the city is.  Only one of Winnipeg’s 50 hotels publicly identifies as LGBT-friendly.  Fewer than 1 in 5 hotels were open to assisting LGBT travellers in finding out about local queer events.

While Winnipeg has not yet positioned itself as a destination of choice for the LGBT travel market, the good news is that the city fared better than other prairie cities in Canada.  The even better news is that Winnipeg is taking steps towards getting to where we need to be.  

Zelles is reaching out to hotels across the country to discuss how they can become friendlier to LGBT travellers.  And some hotels have taken the task to heart. “The LGBT market is an important part of our overall marketing strategy,” says Rhonda Sumner of Place Louis Riel. “Our business is focused on ensuring that all of our guests feel welcome.  We train our staff to go the extra mile to ensure that LGBT guests feel at home.”  

Tourism Winnipeg is also working to develop a comprehensive strategy to bring more LGBT travellers to the city.  In fact, the LGBT market is included in the 2011-2016 Master Tourism Plan for the city.  We are already seeing the results of this strategy.  In 2013, Winnipeg will host the World Congress of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Jews.  This conference is a big win for the city and shows how a distinct effort can attract major LGBT events.  

Winnipeg already has one major advantage over other Canadian destinations. Its Pride festival is one of the most established in the country.  Pride, which attracted more than 15,000 people this year, is quickly becoming one of the city’s largest events.    More importantly, Pride draws in visitors from outside the province.  

Manitoba has a great deal to offer – a vibrant arts community, a dynamic theatre scene and the world’s largest collection of Inuit art.  Winnipeg has more than 1,100 restaurants, which reflect its multicultural makeup.  The Bombers, Goldeyes and the Jets keep sports fans busy.   And across the province there are too many natural wonders to count.

There’s no doubt that we have the attractions to bring in our share of that $7 billion.  The question is: how are we readying ourselves for it?  We all have a role in helping Manitoba raise its rainbow flag to visitors.  We can do more to make LGBT visitors feel more welcome.  We can support Pride Winnipeg to host another successful Pride festival.  Our businesses can take that extra step to bring in more LGBT visitors. And when making travel choices for ourselves, our friends, our employees and our clients – we can use travel agencies, airlines, hotels that have identified as LGBT-friendly.


– Mark Schollenberg is president of LAMBDA, Manitoba’s LGBT Business Chamber and a small business advisor with RBC Royal Bank.

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