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Whistler pursuing gay travel market

Web site developer’s efforts supported by Tourism Whistler, mountains

After several lean years in the tourism industry, Whistler’s stakeholders will be endeavouring to take more strides into the lucrative gay market by endorsing a new Web site:

Sean Kearns, who is an experienced technology marketer, has been working on this Web site for the sole purpose of bringing more gay people to what he calls a "gay friendly environment."

And the municipality, Tourism Whistler and Whistler-Blackcomb are supporting his idea.

Kearns has been coming to Whistler for more than 10 years but last year just after Altitude week, Whistler’s famous gay ski week, he had an idea to expand the concept. The result is this Web site, which lists gay-friendly accommodation, activities, restaurants, travel information and details about how to book a wedding or honeymoon.

Mayor Hugh O’Reilly has a welcome note on the Web site that says, among other things, "Whistler has been the proud destination of Altitude – the popular gay and lesbian winter event – for over a decade.

"We are delighted that is now providing gay and lesbian travelers with opportunities to visit Whistler during any season of the year."

Kearns said it was important to invite gay travelers for all the same reasons other tourists are invited to Whistler, but also because there is still a lot of bias in the world and gay travelers want to know that they can be themselves when on vacation.

"Whistler is a very open community but in the rest of the world there’s still hate crimes and there’s still bias and there’s still prejudice against many people in the gay community," said Kearns. "And more and more gay people want to go to traditionally straight, but openly accepting communities and not feel like you can’t hold hands or go to a restaurant and have a romantic dinner.

"That’s what Whistler offers above and beyond anything else… and that’s why it’s appealing not just to the young partiers, but the couples and the ones who want to go with their friends.

"As a gay traveler I have gone into many resorts and checked in with my partner and they say right away, ‘would you like two beds?’ and I’m thinking ‘would you ask a (straight) couple that?’

"So our goal was to put together a package that from the time a gay traveler arrives to the time a gay traveler leaves, they have a string of gay friendly (business) partners they can use that are very welcoming and accepting and they’ve signed our code of ethics and morals. And this has not been done before (in Whistler) even though the gay travel market is one of the most lucrative demographics in the travel market."

Kearns said he intended to focus on three main events each year, in the winter, summer and autumn.

"The RMOW, Tourism Whistler and the mountain have all been very, very supportive; the hardest part of it has been pulling all the partners together and putting the technology together so people can actually book on our site."