When singer Connie Francis mused on “Where the Boys Are” in the early 1960s, the answer was sunny Fort Lauderdale. She was, of course, talking about boys who like girls. But decades later the city has become an out and proud queer mecca boasting numerous bars, shops and guesthouses—aimed primarily at gay men. But Richard Gray, longtime city advocate, former resort owner and current LGBTQ Managing Director for the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau, aims to swing the doors open even wider to embrace transgendered people—a community that has thus far been underserved by the travel industry. The city recently became the first in the world to launch a marketing campaign, “Where Happy Meets Lucky,” and corresponding web page aimed at trans travelers as part of its commitment to ensuring the sun-drenched city is welcoming to all. We recently spoke with Gray to find out how the city is adding a capital “T” to Fort Lauderdale.
In what ways is Fort Lauderdale becoming a “go to” destination for transgendered travelers?
Richard Gray We are the first destination in the world that includes transgender models in our new global mainstream marketing campaign. We launched this campaign on New Year’s Eve in Times Square with a billboard video featuring Isabella Santiago, a Venezuelan model and former 2014 Miss World Transgender. Using trans models in our mainstream campaign says who we are as a destination—cosmopolitan, edgy, diverse, inclusive, authentic and accepting. This shows our commitment to diversity, inclusion and equality.
We are also the new home of the Southern Comfort Transgender Conference in September, which was moved from Atlanta to Fort Lauderdale in 2015 when we became the first destination in the World to launch a trans campaign, “Where Happy Meets Go Lucky.”
What is it that trans travelers look for in a destination?
RG Safety is paramount for trans travelers. When I say safety, I mean both physical and verbal. Local legislation protection for transgender people is also a major deciding factor for trans travelers when selecting a city.
How can a destination make this community feel welcome?
RG When we launched our trans campaign, it was critical to have the support of our local community and our police department, as well as our elected officials. We offer sensitivity training to our hospitality partners. We also launched a transgender landing page for trans travelers. sunny.org/tlgb. I placed the T in front of LGB to show our commitment and support to the trans community.
Being authentic is key. Greater Fort Lauderdale welcomes ALL travelers, irrespective of their religion, the color of their skin, their sexuality or how they identify. We want all travelers that visit our fabulous destination to feel free to be themselves, free to be accepted, feel welcome and most of all safe.
Does the trans community have favored destinations? If so, what are they?
RG In 2014 we released the first ever transgender travel survey that we commissioned with Community Marketing & Insights. One of the key findings we learned was that most transgender people are stealth. Often their own partners do not know that they are trans. We learned that they do travel for leisure and business, and that they prefer to stay in medium-sized hotels. Popular destinations for the trans community are traditionally popular
destinations such as New York City, San Francisco, Washington DC and Las Vegas. Fort Lauderdale featured in the top 10.
Do you predict an upward growth from this community? Will other industry professionals begin courting them?
RG We are already seeing an increase in transgender travelers as they learn how progressive and accepting Greater Fort Lauderdale is. I believe that that other destinations should market to the trans community, but I [also] believe that few destinations will have the courage to develop and execute such an inclusive and diverse marketing campaign as ours.
Featured image courtesy of Greater Fort Lauderdale