'I think we’ve come a long way'

Charlottetown tourism operator says Island more welcoming to homosexual, bisexual and transgender community

Dave Stewart dstewart@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on August 1, 2014

This is the fourth in The Guardian's series looking at LGBTQ issues in Prince Edward Island, Pride in P.E.I.

A Charlottetown bed and breakfast co-owner says the province is making progress in welcoming those in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) communities.

Vicki Francis operates the Cranford Inn on Fitzroy Street with Martha Jacobsen. Francis also sits on the P.E.I. Gay Tourism Association, which is comprised of more than 30 businesses.

“I think we’ve come a long way,’’ Francis said, noting that part of the battle is educating the public, business owners and government.

Progress will be celebrated during Pride 2014, July 27-Aug. 2, across the province. The event aims to celebrate the diversity of the Island’s social fabric.

A year ago, Travel Gay Canada sent down one of its representatives to share some advice on how businesses could become more LGBTQ-friendly.

It’s not just about opening the front door and allowing members of the LGBTQ community to check in, it’s guarding against things many people wouldn’t even think of.

It could be a raised eyebrow that makes the customer feel like he or she is being judged. Or, it could be someone at the front counter who offers a same-sex couple two separate beds when they’ve asked for a single queen bed.

Francis said it’s educating people on how not to trip over their own tongue.

“The little things that you might say that you don’t think are offensive and are not necessarily offensive’’ but may be interpreted as being ‘unwelcoming’, she said.

In terms of promoting the Island as LGBTQ-friendly, the Department of Tourism has integrated material in its visitors guide, something Francis said is a huge step forward. There is also a page on the Tourism P.E.I. website that connects visitors to the P.E.I. Gay Tourism Association website. There has also been some marketing done in print publications such as Funmaps and the Gay Quebec Guide while Discover Charlottetown also has a LGBTQ marketing initiative.

“I mean, this is way beyond the way things used to be. Think 10 to 15 years ago. It was not on anybody’s radar.’’

Francis said business is up, at least for the elegant and contemporary seven-room Cranford Inn. August is booked stronger than ever. Nearly half of her guests come from the United States.

Bill Kendrick, chairman of the P.E.I. Gay Tourism Association, said members of the LGBTQ community visit P.E.I. for the same things everyone else does.

“They are coming because of our beaches, because of our coastline, our seafood, our culture, our music, They’re coming because of Anne of Green Gables, for golf; they’re coming for the same reasons that everybody else does,’’ Kendrick said.

Kendrick and his wife operated a LGBTQ-friendly bed and breakfast for 12 years before concentrating on the Experience P.E.I. tourism website.

“We were a gay-welcoming destination right from the very beginning,’’ he said. “We have a gay daughter and we are members of PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbian and Gay people) and we were active in supporting the LGBTQ communities. For us, it was just a natural that we would identify ourselves as such and we would let guests know if they came to our place that they would be welcome.’’

Francis said the plethora of 2014 events has been a big hit with guests and she’s hoping the Charlottetown Festival brings back Evangeline next year, a main stage production that was also a hit last year with her guests.

“We have an awful lot of product going on. I hope we have something for next year.’’

Kendrick said P.E.I. is making progress as a gay-friendly destination but also notes that measuring how successful is hard. People don’t exactly fill out questionnaires when they leave.

“We’re not as up front with our marketing as some of us would like to see but it’s a gradual process. We understand that Tourism P.E.I. has a limited number of funds to put into marketing and they have to decide where that is most effective.

“Would I like to see more? Absolutely, but we have to work with the industry and with government. I think there is a significant market out there . . . and P.E.I. is not necessarily on their radar.’’