LGBT tourism in Virginia and why it’s so important

Come one, come all…the Commonwealth awaits you!

Photo by Tim Kelley.

I probably don’t have to remind anybody that summertime is coming up. That means travel plans are in the works, destinations are being scouted out, and desktop backgrounds are becoming pictures of hammocks on the beach.

Virginia Tourism Corporation is ramping up too, their Virginia is for Lovers campaign encouraging everyone to remember our state when making travel plans. And, particularly with the recent legalization of gay marriage, Virginia as a whole has gained a stronger reputation for receptiveness to all lifestyles. So when I say they’re encouraging everyone to remember our state when making travel plans, I mean everyone.

As the LGBT community figures out their summer vacation destinations, Virginia Tourism is working hard to polish up our state’s welcoming and receptive image. Says Caroline Logan, Director of Communications for Virginia Tourism, “We can now say that Virginia is for ALL lovers.” (Which is something I would really like as a bumper sticker).

To spread the word to travelers of all types in regards to our beautiful scenery, exquisite cuisine, and nonjudgmental community, OutRVA has put together a delightful piece to show those delightful LGBT’s about our delightful city. By the way, this is going to make you want to visit Richmond even though you already live here.

The LGBT population alone spends billions and billions of dollars on tourism every year. Which, in our humble opinion, we think they should spend more of that here! In our entertaining, active, and open-to-all-lifestyles state!

And Governor McAuliffe agrees; in 2014, he formed a group to help increase the boost of LGBT tourism here in Virginia. He created a governor’s task force (which sounds very exclusive and elite, and for some reason I can only hear that term in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s voice).

The members were chosen based on their various backgrounds and expertise. They include individuals heavily involved in the LGBT community, industry stakeholders, and business leaders. Kind of like the X-Men, each person brought their own skills to form an integrated unit fighting for a single cause. And just like the X-Men, each member was unique enough to bring something different to the table. Except in this case, it was more like Hi, I’m Patty, I’ve worked in Virginia Tourism for 27 years instead of Hi, I’m Patty, I can shoot flames out of my fingertips as I hover atop a skyscraper.

They met four times to collaborate and strategize on enhancing local tourism (and perhaps how to use their superpowers to save the planet). After much research and discussion, they took their conclusions to the governor.

The group (or, The Force, as I imagine they prefer to be called) came up with ways, based on research and marketing, to entice LGBT travelers. Kevin Clay, founder of GayRVA and Big Spoon Agency, explained, “National data shows, as travelers, [LGBT tourists] are intentional in making sure that where they spend their dollar is truly welcoming and safe. Our work in Richmond and across Virginia is about showcasing the real and authentic ways that our destinations are open and welcoming.”

But aside from seeking a nondiscriminatory environment regardless of lifestyle, believe it or not, LGBT travelers look for just about the same things as any other traveler. According to Bob Witeck, founder and president of Witeck Communications and author of Business Inside Out, the first book on LGBT consumer marketing, “We do know that LGBT visitors have some preferences validated by research–such as outdoor recreation and camping, as well as urban fare, dining, entertainment, shopping, restaurants, and inns.”

And fortunately for the Force, our state makes it really easy to promote travel. Now for the part where I sound like an advertisement for Virginia tourism.

We’ve got activities for outdoorsy folks that love doing outdoorsy things like biking, hiking, swimming, and camping. We’ve got activities for outdoorsy folks that like being outdoors without actually doing outdoorsy things, like drinking beer on patios and looking at beautiful scenery. We’ve got outlets for history buffs that love museums, and even history buffs that love large open fields that were once somehow significant in some battle long ago. Craft beer and cocktail drinkers, wine enthusiasts, and foodies unite in Virginia. Theater nerds, comedy geeks, and music lovers, Virginia has got you covered. There are even LGBT-centered businesses such as Babe’s (dancing!), Godfrey’s (drag brunch!) and Richmond Triangle Players (unique, enlightening, and often hilarious theatre!).

Witeck sums it up perfectly: “I believe [Virginia] offers spectacular choices and experiences–from history to culture to entertainment to natural beauty, you name it. What an amazingly diverse state in our own treasures, enterprise and character–and LGBT people are absolutely a part of all of it.”

So please, encourage your LGBT friends to come to Virginia for a visit! As a matter of fact, you can even tell your straight friends. We’re open-minded.

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Rachel Marsh

Rachel Marsh wishes brunch was more than a weekly occurrence.

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