The New Virginia Economy Sparkles Thanks to Governor Terry McAuliffe’s LGBT Tourism Task Force

By Jesse LaVancher

 Governor Elect Terry McAuliffe

Just before the holiday season began last December, the Governor’s LGBT Tourism Task Force met for the final time as a group. Secretary of Commerce & Trade, Maurice Jones, opened this final session with kind words of thanks for the group. “The Governor thanks you for the great work that you have done this year. Virginia has a golden opportunity to continue the journey it began in 1607 in trying to make this place a place where every person can be the best he or she can be. We want to create an inclusive and open environment where everyone can flourish. Now comes the real work!” LGBT marketing guru and the Task Force’s spokesperson, Bob Witeck, responded to Secretary Jones’ warm words with praise of his own. “All of us are grateful that we have had this leadership from the top.”

LGBT travelers make up about 5% of all travelers in Virginia. Studies have shown that they spend more, stay longer and travel more for leisure than other groups. They participate in arts and cultural activities. They are huge consumers of digital media. The power of friendships within the LGBT community cannot be overstated, particularly because LGBT community often makes travel decisions based off of the recommendations of their friends. Interestingly, the LGBT demographic is a powerful force from a marketing perspective because they are influential trend-setters when it comes to the behaviors of other demographics. Acknowledging the opportunities Virginia has when seeking to engage LGBT travelers, Bob Witeck said, “The economic story is the story we have to tell better than anybody.” For these reasons, and a plethora of others, Virginia is wise to make concerted efforts to attract LGBT travelers.

Importantly, Bob noted, “5% is just a starting point or footprint. We also need to capture the ally market.” Indeed, Virginia’s tourism officials must seek to engage LGBT allies when attempting to capture the LGBT traveler. Moreover, Virginia’s important role on the national stage allows the Commonwealth to serve “as a leader in the nation and an example for other states” when the Task Force’s recommendations are implemented.

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Given the powerful role that tourism plays in Virginia’s economy, it is critical that our tourism officials engage the LGBT community in a way that is authentic and true. The recommendations from the Task Force that were submitted to Governor McAuliffe in mid-January expand the inclusive nature of the Commonwealth’s long-time motto, “Virginia is for Lovers.” After all, as Rita McClenny, President and CEO of the Virginia Tourism Corporation, noted, “We’re in the love business.”

Jesse LaVancher