A Message From The New VGTA President

Hello Readers! I’d like to take this opportunity to introduce myself as the new President of the VGTA. I’ve been on the Board of the VGTA for the last 3 years. I joined the organization because I believed in the importance of our mission to introduce the State of Vermont to gay travelers near and far. I was born and raised in the tiny town of Lunenburg, Vermont and eventually made my way to Boston after graduate school. While in Boston, I co-founded Aunt Sadie’s, one of the country’s leading manufacturers of candles in the US. At the end of 2010 my business partner and I relocated Aunt Sadie’s to Lunenburg where we continue operations today. But enough about me!

The Vermont Gay Tourism Association has a rich history of promoting the state as an LBGTQ tourism destination. The VGTA was founded in 2000 by a small group of Vermont innkeepers, including Willie Docto, co-owner of Moose Meadow Lodge in Waterbury. Willie served as the VGTA’s second President, taking over from Jeff Connor (former owner of Grunberg Haus) from 2008 until February 2017. Without Willie, the VGTA would not have flourished and would not be the single most important group marketing Vermont to the LGBTQ tourist community. Willie is still on the Board of VGTA (as he has been for 17 years!). He currently serves as our Treasurer and his invaluable contributions continue.

Remember that in 2000, then Governor Dean had signed Civil Union rights in to law. Willie and a handful of fellow innkeepers saw a unique opportunity to promote Vermont’s many tourism offerings to the LGBTQ community. After recommendations to the Vermont Department of Tourism to market directly to the LGBTQ community was shot down, Willie and his colleagues decided to take up that charge on their own. With the Vermont Legislature and Governor Dean’s historic commitment to Civil Unions, the State was immediately on the national LGBTQ radar. Inquiries began pouring in from gay couples living outside of Vermont of how they could travel to Vermont and have their relationship recognized as a legal civil union. And the VGTA became the instant “go-to” resource for that information. Willie and his colleagues were at the forefront of helping couples navigate the waters of the civil union law and the options inquiring couples had in traveling to Vermont, including lodging, dining and other tourism opportunities.

The VGTA has continued its mission since 2000 and helped countless numbers of LGBTQ folks visit Vermont. In 2009, Vermont became the first state in the union to legalize gay marriage through a legislative process. And the VGTA quickly saw the renewed interest from the LGBTQ community outside of Vermont to travel to Vermont to vacation and get married. The uniqueness that Vermont holds in the history of legalizing civil unions and gay marriage long before other states will always be recognized by the LGBTQ community. And Vermont will always hold a positive image as a popular tourist destination for the LGBTQ traveler. But, with the federal recognition of gay marriage in 2015 the unique need to travel to Vermont to marry as a gay couple vanished. And that fact presents the VGTA with new challenges in competing for the LGBTQ traveler’s tourism dollars.

That’s probably a long lead in to sharing some immediate new happenings at the VGTA and some items on our task list for 2017 and beyond. I’m happy to report that VGTA will partner with the Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing to launch a social media campaign in the Southeastern United States targeting the LGBTQ traveler. The core of the campaign will center around a giveaway of the Ultimate Vermont Getaway for one lucky winner and guest. The campaign will launch in June, with an entry deadline of August 31st. Our goal of this campaign is simple: introduce Vermont as a popular LGBTQ tourism spot, highlight our VGTA member businesses and increase our database of interested LGBTQ tourists in the Southeast.

On our immediate docket of needs is a redesign of the VGTA website. While our website continues to highlight our member businesses and offers the LGBTQ traveler good information for planning their Vermont vacation, it is lacking in some important components to keep up-to-date in the current social media climate. Our current website is not tablet or smartphone friendly. That needs to change. Our website needs to offer more robust opportunities for members to inform visitors about their business, last minute specials, etc. And, there is a vast amount of information our website does not offer the LGBTQ traveler which needs to be added to the content. Within the last month, the VGTA has established an Instagram account currently managed by Board member Sebastien Dutton of Audi Burlington.

At our most recent Board meeting, we decided against producing our annual Northern Decadence event in conjunction with Vermont Pride in September. Key in making that decision was the fact that we currently lack the infrastructure to produce a successful Northern Decadence and the desire to take a more in-depth look at what event marketing opportunities will best serve our member businesses and the goals of promoting gay travel to Vermont.

The VGTA has long enjoyed a strong relationship with the Director of the Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing. We’re working hard to assure that relationship continues. Former Director Megan Smith was a champion of the VGTA and made it a priority to support the VGTA’s efforts in attending out-of-state gay pride and travel expos. As we have for the past many years, the VGTA will exhibit at the Boston Gay Pride Festival in June in an effort to educate pride goers about the tourism opportunities in Vermont. We will again participate in one of the country’s largest LGBTQ expos in the United States in NYC in September. At all these events, we bring member brochures and work hard to promote the State of Vermont as the ideal LGBTQ tourist destination.

The future is bright for the VGTA and Vermont in the LGBTQ world. We’re excited to expand our support of member businesses and continue our mission of promoting the State of Vermont to the LGBTQ tourism community at large. In fact, we are the only recognized organization in the country that does what we do. We’re proud to promote Vermont to the LGBTQ community because we LOVE Vermont. We believe Vermont is one of the most friendly, accepting, beautiful, unique, fun and adventuresome places for the LGBTQ tourist to visit. Heck, we believe Vermont is all that to any tourist regardless of sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, political affiliation or previous travel experiences. We live in Vermont because we LOVE Vermont. And its that love that continues us on the journey to promote Vermont as the quintessential LGBTQ travel destination.

Thanks for reading. Be sure to check back often for blog updates and new information as we continue our mission to improve our website for our members and those seeking information about travel to Vermont. If you own a business in Vermont and are interested in joining the VGTA, please reach out to me at gbriggs@auntsadiesinc.com. Warm Regards, Gary

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