Jeff Guaracino, author of the forthcoming book, "Handbook for LGBT Tourism and Hospitality: A Guide for Business Practice" and President and CEO of Welcome America, shared his professional insights and tips on the industry with the LGBT Meeting Professionals Association:
JG: In the meeting and convention world, many LGBT groups can be found within the SMERF (social, military, educational, religious, and fraternal) market. There are LGBT-related groups for just about everything, from the Gay and Lesbian Association of Doctors and Dentists in London to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, and Intersex Association.
Back in 2007, Jack Ferguson, senior vice president (later president and CEO) of the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB), said, “The LGBT convention market is still in its embryonic stage and is developing towards infancy.” In 2015, Julie Coker, president and CEO of the Philadelphia CVB, affirmed that LGBT groups are now firmly in the SMERF market, with the Out and Equal conference being one of the largest conventions in the United States. Why has this change happened, and what opportunities does it offer?
It used to be more difficult to tap the LGBT meeting, group, and convention market because meeting planners and group organizers (often volunteers) were harder to find and the lack of permanent offices made prevented traditional sales calls. Today, however, the Web has made these planners visible and easier to reach.
LGBTMPA: How powerful is this emerging industry?
JG: LGBT meetings and conventions are a big business. For example, The Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board reported a $950,000 economic impact to Los Angeles from a recent International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association Convention. Delegates to the three-day convention spent $260,000 at the Hyatt Regency alone. Las Vegas is another popular destination for meetings and conventions for all kinds of travelers. The Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority (LVCVA) saw the value in the LGBT market and wanted to position the city to earn the business. As Las Vegas entered the LGBT tourism segment, the destination sought meeting, group, convention, and large-event opportunities. In recent years, the LVCVA recorded booking 85,000 room nights for LGBT groups, with a non-gaming economic impact of over $25 million.
LGBTMPA: What are some of your tips for attracting the LGBT meeting and convention business?
JG: Go to the largest LGBT conventions to meet with other industry leaders and meeting planners. Often times you can find or refer a client who is organizing a small group LGBT meeting or sporting event. You can also get great ideas for sponsors, programming and the issues of that particular audience. Engage local LGBT leaders who might be able to refer other business to you (both LGBT and straight). Remember, engagement with the LGBT community is not only a good business decision it also signals that your organization is openly accepts all groups of people, is progressive and those values align with many meeting planners. Sell and develop relationships. After you evaluate and position your service, space or product for the LGBT market but you have to sell the heck out of it. Building or growing a market segment requires consistent investment and time to measure your ROI.
Reserve a copy of Jeff Guaracino’s book at harringtonparkpress.com/lgbt-tourism-hospitality
LGBTMPA: Join our growing list of LGBT Meeting Professionals to stay informed at www.lgbtmeetingplanner.com