Greater Fort Lauderdale hosts global ‘Think Tank’

The Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau (GFLCVB) held its inaugural Global LGBT+ Think Tank on September 17-18 at The Riverside Hotel in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Fort-Lauderdale: Downtown Pink Bridge Riverwalk

Fourteen leaders from corporate and leisure travel companies came together for the first time to discuss the next steps to improve the LGBT+ travel experience.

“We’re really excited about the opportunities and trends discovered by this esteemed group of thought leaders. Together we can work towards shaping a more respectful and inclusive future in global tourism,” said Richard Gray, vice president, LGBT+ market for the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau. “Leveraging insights from the Greater Fort Lauderdale LGBT+ Think Tank will be essential for growing LGBT+ travel globally. This historic sharing of minds and vision was unprecedented and clearly needed, so we are happy to announce the Think Tank will take place again next year.”

Participating travel experts included:
♦  Diane Anderson-Minshall – Editor in Chief, The Advocate
♦  Alexis Dee – President, Southern Comfort Transgender Conference
♦  Rick Fowler – VP, Meetings & Education, National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce
♦  Vicky Garcia – Chief Operating Officer, Cruise Planners
♦  Richard Gray – VP, LGBTQ, Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau
♦  Jeff Guaracino – President & CEO, Welcome America
♦  Jacob Huang – Corporate Program Director, Aibai Culture & Education Center
♦  Gregg Kaminsky – Founder and President, rFamily Vacations
♦  Billy Kolber – Publisher, Man About World
♦  Anders Lindstrom – Director of Communications, Norwegian Air Lines
♦  David Nelson – Senior Portfolio Analyst and Chairman of LGBT+ Employee Resource Group (ERG), Royal Caribbean
♦  Tom Roth, President, Community Marketing & Insights
♦  Charlie Rounds – Program Director, Mossier
♦  Bob Witeck – President, Witeck Communications

The Think Tank leaders identified where LGBT+ travellers will be going in the next five to 10 years, how best to reach them, and how to identify their needs. They also acknowledged the importance of identifying the diversity of the audience and how to address them.

“I’m proud of Royal Caribbean and what we’ve been able to accomplish with our diversity and sensitivity training, and we are always looking for additional ways to reach our LGBT+ employees and guests,” said David Nelson, senior portfolio analyst and chairman of LGBT+ Employee Resource Group (ERG) at Royal Caribbean. “We have discovered great opportunities at the Think Tank to build relationships and to collaborate with thanks to the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau’s global lead in the LGBT+ platform.”

China is the world’s largest LGBT+ travel market. Jacob Huang, corporate program director at Aibai Culture & Education Center in China, brought the Chinese perspective to the Think Tank.

“I’ve been working on LGBT+ travel issues for several years, and I’m really happy that I had the opportunity to participate in this global exchange of ideas,” he said. “Greater Fort Lauderdale is a destination that would have great appeal to the LGBT+ communities in China because of the large LGBT+ scene and because it is home to Sawgrass Mills, one of the world’s largest outlet malls.”

Travel safety proved to be the main concern at the Think Tank. The group also agreed that the LGBT+ market needs to be better integrated into mainstream marketing across the globe.

During the discussion, the importance of employee resource groups (ERG) was highlighted. These ERGs can be an asset to corporations as to where their LGBT+ employees feel comfortable traveling to. In addition, the group shared LGBT+ allies’ position on travelling to areas that are diverse and supportive of the community.

“We cannot forget that travel doesn’t just mean leisure travel, but it means corporate meetings and incentives,” said Charlie Rounds, program director at Mossier. “The goal is to make destinations more inclusive. Greater Fort Lauderdale has shown to be a clear leader in this, and will continue to do so in the future.”

The Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau has been proactively targeting and welcoming the LGBT+ market since 1996, when it became the first Convention & Visitors Bureau with a gay-centric vacation planner, and dedicated website on a CVB homepage.

Since then, the destination has continued to break down barriers and facilitate essential visibility for the LGBT+ communities at large.

The destination now welcomes 1.5 million LGBT+ travellers annually, who spend $1.5 billion. It also features one of the largest Pride Centers in the country, the first and only World AIDS Museum and Education Center, and is home to the Stonewall National Museum & Archives, one of the only permanent spaces in the U.S. devoted to exhibitions relating to LGBT+ history and culture.

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