St. Petersburg hosting gay, lesbian tourism conference for the first time

ST. PETERSBURG — Already home to the largest gay pride event in the state, St. Petersburg this week is hosting the International Gay Lesbian Travel Association’s Annual Global Convention for the first time.

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Nearly 400 tour operators, travel agents, travel journalists and airline and cruise ship representatives that cater to the LGBTQ tourism community will be at the Vinoy Renaissance St. Petersburg Resort Golf Club through Sunday.

The organization chose St. Petersburg because of its thriving LGBTQ community, said John Tanzella, president and CEO of the IGLTA.

“We have a formal bid process for host cities, and St. Petersburg beat out everyone else,” he said. “I tip my hat to Visit St. Pete-Clearwater. They do a really good job marketing this destination internationally, so much so that it’s drawn the largest international delegation we’ve ever had.”

Tanzella said that conference attendees have come to St. Petersburg from 36 different countries.

“A lot of people know of St. Pete, so this is a great opportunity to come and see it for themselves,” he said. “St. Pete has always been welcoming of LGBTQ travelers, and with the arts, the beaches and the restaurants here, there are a lot of compelling reasons to visit St. Pete. Not to mention there are also local LGBTQ elected officials.”

Tampa is better known for hosting conferences because of its downtown convention center, but David Downing, CEO of Visit St. Pete-Clearwater said this is a “huge get” for Pinellas County.

“This really shows the power of the LGBTQ traveler,” Downing said. “For us to be included on the list of cities internationally that have hosted this event, to compete at that level, creates a new visibility for us.”

The IGLTA conference has been in Cape Town, South Africa; Madrid, Spain and Chicago. Next the conference heads to Toronto and then New York City.

The travel agents registered at the conference represent $40 million in travel spending power from the LGBTQ community, Tanzella said.

“We know not every destination is going to be like San Francisco. But what we hope to do is make these emerging and welcoming cities like St. Pete not so much of a secret,” he said.

Contact Justine Griffin at jgriffin@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8467. Follow @SunBizGriffin.