Prince Edward Island is already considered an attractive tourist destination with its spectacular scenery, sandy beaches, challenging golf courses and friendly people. But tourism operators on “the gentle island” are also making an effort to get the message out that P.E.I. is gay-friendly.
“What we’re trying to do is let travellers know that Prince Edward Island is gay welcoming and we have a lot of the things that the research indicates that gay travellers are seeking,” said Bill Kendrick, chairman of the P.E.I. Gay Tourism Association.
He said gay travellers are looking for the same features in a destination as anyone else, plus a bit more.
“Gay travellers are looking to assure themselves that where they’re going they’ll feel comfortable, they’re going to feel safe, and they’re not going to feel uncomfortable when they book accommodations as a same-sex couple.”
Kendrick said that can be as simple as not asking a same-sex couple if they want separate beds or separate rooms.
Vicki Francis, owner of the Cranford Inn in Charlottetown, said it’s simply a matter of listing the room options as you would with any guest, and not making any assumptions.
“If you ask for the King suite, you don’t want a staffer saying ’but that’s just one bed’,” said Francis. “You have to build that awareness.
“Even having pictures in the tourism guide that shows two men or two women builds awareness.”
The P.E.I. Gay Tourism Association is working with the Tourism Industry Association of Prince Edward Island and Travel Gay Canada to offer diversity training courses for tourism operators and their staff.
The effort goes beyond just trying to be accepting and politically correct. Kendrick said it’s also good business because the gay travel market in Canada is significant.
He said research shows that gay travellers tend to travel more frequently, stay longer and spend more.
“On average the general population travels once or twice a year, while the gay travel market tends to travel three to five times a year,” Kendrick said. “It makes sense to position yourself so you become a choice for that market.
“This is a niche market we think we can appeal to because we have a lot of the cultural, cuisine, the history, the beaches and all of the things that the research tells us gay travellers are looking for in a destination.”
Kendrick said his association will do very specific target marketing on certain websites and in gay travel publications.
“I think we will learn over time what works,” said Francis. “We are now in a social media age and we have to move in that area.”
Kendrick said Tourism P.E.I. has been very supportive, and has included a gay-welcoming message within the annual visitors’ guide.
“Now on the provincial government’s tourism website, if someone types in ’gay friendly’ as keywords in the search engine, then members of our association’s accommodations, stores and restaurants can now be found,” Kendrick said. “That didn’t exist two years ago.”
Brenda Gallant, the director of marketing for Tourism PEI, said it’s important to provide excellence in customer service for everyone who visits the Island.
However, Gallant said research done by the Tourism Research Centre at the University of Prince Edward Island shows that the department doesn’t need to do any specific target marketing to the gay and lesbian community.
“A lot of what we have to offer is very appealing to the gay community,” she said. “When you’re going out there with the beautiful beaches and the phenomenal seafood and the whole culinary aspect, it does draw that market ... so you’re doing it just by the regular campaign that we have now.”
She said the visitors’ guide and Tourism P.E.I. websites have sections that provide information and links to ensure people know that the Island is gay and lesbian friendly.
Gallant said they will continue to work with various associations on the Island and encourage operators and their staff to take sensitivity training.
“We certainly pride ourselves on friendliness here on Prince Edward Island, so you want to ensure that whoever the market is that is coming here feel they are being welcomed with open arms,” Gallant said.