On September 22, the Virginia Tourism Corp. started a new marketing program specifically aimed at drawing LGBT tourists to visit the state.
The campaign enables businesses such as hotels and wedding venues to designate themselves as LGBT friendly on the state’s tourism website.
It also introduces an alternative version of the classic “Virginia is for Lovers” logo, which has been in use since 1969. On the new logo, the red heart that typically stands for the letter “v” in the word “Lovers” is replaced with a rainbow-colored heart, representing LGBT pride.
The goal is to present Virginia as a safe and inclusive place for LGBT travelers and their families, said Caroline Logan, director of communications for Virginia Tourism Corp.
The agency did not budget a specific amount for the LGBT campaign but incorporated it into its overall advertising and promotions budget for this fiscal year of about $7 million. The campaign does not currently include media advertising.
A new landing page on the virginia.org website, virginia.org/LGBT, has listings of lodgings, restaurants, retail stores and other attractions in the state “that have designated themselves as LGBT-friendly and welcoming,” the Virginia Tourism Corp. said.
“We’ve created this landing page to officially welcome LGBT visitors, as well as your family and friends, to Virginia,” Gov. Terry McAuliffe said in a welcome video posted on the site. “Here you will be able to connect with the businesses and communities that designate themselves as LGBT friendly.
“We hope that you will enjoy your visit to Virginia and that you will return again year after year after year,” he said.
The listed lodgings include dozens of bed & breakfasts, beach and mountain rental properties, franchise hotels, and hotels such as The Jefferson and Linden Row Inn in Richmond. The site also lists places around the state for LGBT couples to get married or honeymoon.
Merchandise such as hats and T-shirts with the rainbow logo also are available for sale on the website and are scheduled to be sold at Virginia PrideFest this weekend on Brown’s Island in Richmond.
“The products are brand new, hot off the shelf,” said Logan, adding that the organization is discussing strategies for wholesaling the products.
The website and other elements of the marketing campaign were recommendations offered by McAuliffe’s LGBT Tourism Task Force — led by then-Secretary of Commerce and Trade Maurice Jones — that met in 2015.
That task force consisted of 21 community leaders and supporters of the LGBT community from across the state, who made recommendations on how to draw more LGBT travelers to visit Virginia.
In 2015, U.S. travelers spent $23 billion visiting Virginia. About 5 percent of travelers to the state identify themselves as LGBT.
“There are millions of dollars spent each year by LGBT travelers, which is a very specific segment of the tourism market, so being able to benefit from that segment is important,” said Kevin Clay, who served on the advisory commission and is a principal with Big Spoon Agency, a hospitality consulting firm in Richmond.