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It is a case of “better late than never” as Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe today announced the formation of an LGBT Tourism Task Force. He shared the news while speaking at a statewide tourism summit.
“You can no longer say that Virginia is not open [to LGBT travelers]. We have obviosly lost business to other states…but we are all-in now,” said McAuliffe. “When it comes to investing in tourism, this will be a great return.”
According to industry experts, LGBT travelers spend upwards of $100 billion every year on travel in the United States alone. The Task Force will make recommendations to maximize the opportunity for growth in this tourism sector. “I’m very supportive of the Governor’s recognition of this important demographic,” said Justin Ayars, JD, president and CEO of the recently formed Virginia Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce.
In his previous role with the Richmond Business Alliance, Ayars worked with the city of Richmond tourism officials on its LGBT marketing campaign, OutRVA. “I’ve seen firsthand the economic benefits of LGBT tourism, and I look forward to seeing this effort spread from Richmond to the entire Commonwealth. “
Tourism is a major economic driver for Virginia, responsible for more than $20 billion in annual revenue and 215,000 jobs. “By creating the LGBT Tourism Task Force, Governor McAuliffe is once again showing that he stands proudly for equality and is working to create a Virginia where everybody is welcome to live, work, and play,” said James Parrish, executive director of Equality Virginia. “We still have a lot to do before Virginia is truly inclusive for all LGBT individuals and families, and as we work toward that ideal, we are glad to have a governor who has made equality a priority.”
Virginia will have to work hard to make up for lost time, as Massachusetts, New York and dozens of other states as well as individual cities have been actively marketing to LGBT travelers for many years. Caroline Logan, director of corporate communications for the Virginia Tourism Commission, responsible for attracting more visitors to the state, called the Task Force an “important asset” that will help attract visitors, encourage spending, and help to create jobs in the industry.
The members of the Task Force have not yet been determined. However, according to Logan it will be lead by Maurice Jones, Virginia Secretary of Commerce and Trade, and comprised of industry stakeholders, LGBT community members and state business leaders.
The creation of the LGBT Tourism Task Force follows a number of pro-LGBT actions by McAuliffe. His first act as governor was to sign an executive order banning discrimination in the state workplace based on sexual orientation or gender identify. In addition, as a campaign of same-sex marriage, he recently issued an executive order requiring “all entities in the executive branch, including agencies, authorities, commissions, departments and all institutions of higher education further evaluate all policies and take all necessary and appropriate legal measures t o comply with [the legalization of same-sex marriage in Virginia].”
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