Tourism Toronto said Friday that it plans to launch an advertising campaign aimed at making the city a top destination for gay travellers from the U.S.

The campaign will focus on four major cities - New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles. It will include ads in gay restaurants, bars and local publications, as well as event sponsorships and other promotional activities.

"Toronto has things to offer all year round--we've got a number of festivals outside of Pride that we can market," said Bruce MacDonald of the Canadian Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce.

The ads are still being finalized, but CTV's John Musselman reported that one of them will read: "Just think--in Toronto, you would be the hot and sexy foreigner." The tag line will say "Toronto--as gay as it gets."

Tourism Toronto also established a new group to help with gay marketing that includes more than a dozen local community leaders. The association is also helping hotels in the city and region gain status as 'gay-friendly' establishments through Travel Gay Canada.

City councillor Kyle Rae said Toronto needs to sell itself to gay and lesbian travellers who have plenty of disposable income.

"Toronto has the sense of gateway, so if you come to Toronto you can go to Niagara Falls, you can go to the wine district, and you can go to Muskoka," Rae said.

Tourism officials increased its gay-targeting advertising budget by 50 per cent to $300,000. Business owners in Toronto's gay and lesbian village said it is money well spent.

"I think it's important to get more people to the city, there's a lot of disposable incomes...tourism is huge," said Jimmy Georgoulis with Fuzion restaurant.

"I think it's a great thing for this city to finally focus on this demographic," said Gerry Pergolesi, a bed and breakfast owner.

The new campaign is designed to market the entire city and surrounding region to gay travellers.

Recent research shows that U.S. gay travellers:

  • Travel more frequently - 98 per cent have taken at least one overnight trip in the last twelve months, compared with 72 per cent for heterosexual Americans;
  • Stay longer - they stayed an average of 15 nights in hotels last year, compared with an average of about three nights for all U.S. travelers;
  • Spend more - gay men spend $800 on average per trip, compared to $540 by non-gay travelers.
  • More likely to be passport holders- 71 per cent of travelers who identify themselves as gay hold a valid passport, nearly three times the overall U.S. average of 24 per cent and;
  • Travel throughout the year - With an average household income of $85,000 and an average age of 44, this market tends to travel throughout the year, not just during peak seasons.

Tourism Toronto also announced Friday that city has won the bid to host the 2009 Annual Convention of the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association.

With a report from CTV's John Musselman