By John Hayden
With miles of beaches, plenty of sun and amazing nightlife you may think Greater Fort Lauderdale would sell itself. However, a lot of work goes into not only attracting tourists but also making everyone feel welcome. Broward’s Convention and Visitors Bureau has rebranded itself Visit Lauderdale with a tagline that hits to the heart of our community’s values: Everyone Under the Sun.
“We have rebranded as Visit Lauderdale and are trying more and more to reach out to our local community to let them know who we are and what we do and be a part of what we do and engage with them,” Richard Gray told OutClique. As Visit Lauderdale’s Senior Vice President for Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, he says it’s about being clear and to the point. “It’s no longer the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau. It’s something I would say, and people would have no idea what it was, or they’d get confused.”
From trans, to disabled, to the Black community, Richard says inclusivity means safety. “We are everyone under the sun. We know people come here for the beautiful beaches and the nightlife, the LGBTQ nightlife in Wilton Manors. But they come here because it’s a destination where they feel safe and accepted whoever they are.”
There are 31 municipalities in Greater Fort Lauderdale each with their own unique character, and Visit Lauderdale works to promote them all. “Wilton Manors is a different kettle of fish because there are no hotels there. We promote Wilton Manors because of the nightlife and hundreds of gay owned and operated businesses. So we promote them to visitors to visit when they’re not at the beach.”
Visit Lauderdale’s President and CEO Stacy Ritter echoes the push for diversity. “Regardless of gender, size, race, age, sexual orientation, or religious beliefs, Visit Lauderdale welcomes everyone. We are truly greater together, and our new brand is here for us all.”
Richard is proud of how far we’ve come as a destination and remembers when they started marketing to our community. “I can’t believe 25 years ago we started our campaign with trepidation and a little bit of fear. We took baby steps. We said ‘rainbow’ because we just didn’t have the courage to say gay. Now I think about what we’re doing, how we’re doing it with ease, with confidence being a global leader.”
Richard says the future for LGBTQA+ tourism is bright. “Business is booming here. Absolutely booming.” Despite it being ‘off season’ hotels have been consistently filled and more good things are on the way. The National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce is coming this fall, Bear Week is Labor Day weekend, and more is on the way. A new hotel is set to be built by Port Everglades and the convention center is being updated. Richard believes diversity and inclusion attracts big businesses. “We reach those corporations by showing how diverse we are. Companies want to have meetings in destinations where all employees feel safe and that’s something that we definitely offer.”
Visit Lauderdale is also about connecting with locals. They’ve introduced LauderDeals, special deals at local businesses. New offers are added year round but there are especially good off season deals in June through September.
Richard says it’s all about pride. Pride in a community that values everyone under the sun. “We have this incredible fabric of inclusion and diversity. We’re quite unique in this state. It’s who we are as a destination.”