Fernie businesses are rolling out the welcome mat to LGBTQ travelers.
Signage, diversity training for staff and more inclusive marketing have been pitched as ways to make the town a safer and more attractive place to travel.
Twenty-seven people took part in the “Gender and Sexual Diversity for Tourism” workshop at Park Place Lodge on Friday, which was hosted by the Fernie Pride Society with the support of Kootenay Rockies Tourism, Tourism Fernie, Fernie Chamber of Commerce and Park Place Lodge.
“We were really pleased to see not only retailers and service industry people, but also people from the City of Fernie, Tourism Fernie and the Chamber, and the museum and library as well,” said Fernie Pride Society president Sara Funk.
“It wasn’t just about tourism, it was about learning about the LGBTQ culture and how they’re affected when they come to our town, and how we can make a better experience for them.”
Calgary-based facilitator and human rights advocate, Jason Kingsley, presented the workshop, which focused on the gender and sexually-diverse community, and how businesses could better engage with it. “The number one reason people from the LGBTQ community choose a destination is still safety,” he said.
“They want to feel safe in a destination and it’s not just physical safety, it’s also emotional safety.
“They want to feel like they’re welcome, they don’t want to be discriminated against or feel excluded or mistreated.”
According to Kingsley, LGBTQ travelers in Canada are worth about $8.6 billion a year, half of which they spend within the country.
He said a good starting point for businesses was to make sure they had policies in place to deal with any situations involving LGBTQ customers that they may encounter.
“For example, if you’re a restaurateur and you have a same sex couple that’s in, and they kiss each other at the table and the people next to them say ‘that’s gross, aren’t you going to do anything about that?’ – how is management going to handle that situation?” he said.
Kingsley believes diversity and inclusion training is also important to ensure staff members are informed and understand the terminology, and how to positively interact with members of the LGBTQ community. “We are a very multi-faceted community and there’s everything from lesbian, gay and bisexual individuals, which a lot of people know about, to transgender and intersex individuals, which people still don’t necessarily have a very good understanding of,” he said.
“How to positively interact with those individuals would be really beneficial for creating that positive experience when people are in town.
“For example, if an individual registers for a hotel room and then they come, and their ID or credit card doesn’t match the name they provided because they were transitioning from male to female, this can create some tension or some issues at check in and things like that.
“Making sure people know how to appropriately have those conversations and how to respectfully engage with those individuals so that they’re not alienating them while they’re here.”
Businesses can also consider including signage, either on their website or premises, to clearly communicate to LGBTQ travelers that they are an inclusive property.
“There are some restaurants in Calgary that are really being a pioneer in this area,” said Kingsley.
“Right at their front door when you walk in it says ‘we do not tolerate homophobia, sexism, transphobia, racism, ableism’ – all these kinds of things – and ‘if anyone is acting in this manner, they will be asked to leave’.
“I think there are opportunities where people can take a leadership role and create an inclusive space if that’s something they feel very strongly about.”
Taryn McKenna attended the workshop as a pride society volunteer and was surprised to learn how many LGBTQ travelers there were in Canada.
She identifies as part of the community and said she had always been made to feel welcome in Fernie.
“I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I came to Fernie because you worry in small towns if they’re going to have a more conservative mentality,” she said.
“But I’ve found Fernie to be extremely open-minded. The Pride Festival is a huge success and I thought that was a great surprise given the population of Fernie.
“I think that has a lot to do with the nomadic population… but also there’s so much heart in this town and I was so pleasantly surprised about that.”
The Pride Society will act as a support and resource for workshop participants as they implement their LGBTQ-friendly initiatives, and plans to host more training events in the future.