Those lucky enough to live near the top-rated beaches in the world also know that they are blessed to live in one of the most LGBTQ+ inclusive regions in the United States. The St. Petersburg/Clearwater region hosts the largest pride festival in Florida, St. Pete Pride, which also happens to be the second largest on the East Coast of the United States. In fact, throughout the year, one can find pride celebrations in several towns within the region, including Gulfport and Dunedin, two towns popular for LGBTQ+ retirees and tourists. 

The Grand Central District, St Petersburg’s “gayborhood,” hosted their inaugural Come Out St Pete celebration two years ago, in honor of LGBTQ+ History Month and National Coming Out Day, and will continue the tradition for years to come. The weeklong celebration highlights area businesses and community leaders and includes both a festival and parade down Central Avenue. 

St Petersburg also is home to an LGBTQ+ Welcome Center, the top-ranking LGBTQ+ Library Resource Center, several LGBTQ+ non-profit organizations, an LGBTQ+ Chamber and dozens of LGBTQ+ owned businesses.

The Visit St. Pete/Clearwater tourism bureau is a top sponsor of St. Pete Pride and an active member of IGLTA. In 2017, Visit St. Pete/Clearwater hosted IGLTA’s 34th Global Convention at The Vinoy Renaissance Resort & Golf Club, an iconic landmark on the waterfront in downtown St. Petersburg. In 2018, the tourism bureau stepped up as an IGLTA Silver Level Global Partner. 

Leroy Bridges, VP of Digital & Communications for Visit St. Pete/Clearwater, moved to the St. Pete/Clearwater region in 2011 from the Midwest and has never looked back. A strong ally, Bridges was involved with hosting IGLTA in St. Petersburg and has advocated for further involvement in the global travel organization. He shared his thoughts on why Visit St. Pete/Clearwater signed on as a Global Partner and what makes the region ideal for LGBTQ+ travelers.

Why are you proud to be an IGLTA Global Partner? 

IGLTA has demonstrated itself as an inclusive and forward-thinking organization. To partner with them on a global level is special to us. We recognize that IGLTA brings a level of visibility in the tourism space and we are excited to grow our LGBTQ+ destination. 

What led your organization to become an IGLTA Global Partner? 

We have long been partners and participated in many different events. As that partnership has grown, we felt there was an opportunity to become a partner at a higher level. It becomes natural for an organization like ours to partner with an organization like IGLTA. It makes perfect sense. The evolution of our relationship and community has led to this global partnership. 

Visit St. Pete/Clearwater leans on the community and organizations like IGLTA to learn how to better support LGBTQ+ tourists and to effectively market the St. Petersburg region to the LGBTQ+ community. I don’t think many people realize how LGBTQ+ focused our region is. 

What about the St. Petersburg Region is so special to you?

It starts with the people. When you come to St. Pete, it’s so authentic, local and real. At times it’s hard to describe. It’s something you have to see and feel for yourself. A big part of that is the LGBTQ+ community. 

We created a video marketing Central Avenue in St. Pete to give people an inside look at how special it is to stroll down St. Pete with the LGBTQ+ community. We’re so fortunate to represent this community. 

When we decided to bring the 34th Annual Global Convention to St. Pete, it gave us an opportunity to show what makes St. Pete so special—what makes this great place we call home so unique. 

What impact do you feel hosting the 34th Convention had on the region?

It’s hard to quantify in numbers, but the 100s of attendees coming from 36 countries shows that St. Pete is inclusive, and they can feel comfortable promoting and selling this region. On a global scale, there are many large destinations, like Madrid and Toronto. It’s important for everyone to realize that the St. Petersburg area has a tremendous amount of experiences and activities to offer the LGBTQ+ community—and it starts with our people. 

What aspects of the LGBTQ+ market are important to you? 

The people are most important. We are a marketing organization, so to be successful we have to represent the people in it and what the area offers—especially our beaches. What’s amazing for us is to be able to take those beaches and attach to that our local community and people. LGBTQ+ people are a big part of it.

Certainly there is a business side to it as well. The LGBTQ+ community has a high propensity to travel. People are looking for different experiences and to try to see through different lenses. A lot of that works together positively for us.

A tourism bureau can’t be successful if they aren’t being true to who they are as a region and tying marketing efforts back to the people and what the destination has to offer. 

How are the employees of your organization currently engaging with the LGBTQ+ community? 

We have a couple of internal liaisons and LGBTQ+ champions who partner with our local St. Petersburg LGBTQ+ travel marketing team. We host their meetings from time to time. Largely it manifests itself in the travel space. We partner with and rely on people like Jim Nixon, at the LGBTQ+ welcome center, travel providers, local publications, like OUTCOAST, and global publications to market to the LGBTQ+ consumer/traveler. 

We also participate in St. Pete Pride with floats during the parade and large, interactive displays at the Pride Fest. 

What does diversity and inclusion look like to your company and what diversity and inclusion initiatives are you currently working on? 

A lot of it is through the travel lens. What we feel like we do is open the world to St. Pete and its diversity and inclusion through travel.

We had a diversity training last year through Metro Wellness Center. We’ll be doing this more on a regular basis to make sure our destination is properly supported and represented.

Why are events like St. Pete Pride important to St. Pete/Clearwater? 

Events are at the core of travel and tourism. They are a great thing to put on the calendar and plan around. On the simplest form, it’s a very encouraging way to get people to travel to and explore the region. It’s also a great opportunity for people to see the true colors of the region and its inclusion and diversity. If you really want to see Central Ave come alive, June and October are the perfect times of year to see why we love to live here and promote this area. 

What would you like LGBTQ+ travelers to know about Visit St. Pete/Clearwater? 

Think beyond the Keys and Miami. The Gulf Coast is an undiscovered gem for a lot of people. We are the third largest destination in the state of Florida. There is a different vibe on the Gulf Coast and the same can be said for the LGBTQ+ community as well. Everything doesn’t have to revolve around Mickey, Miami and Key West places. There are still authentic places undiscovered in the state of Florida. 

To learn more about Visit St. Pete/Clearwater, click here

About the Author

Rachel Covello is an award-winning speaker, writer, diversity marketing consultant, and photographer. She was the Founder of LGBT Equality Alliance, a Pennsylvania nonprofit organization, and is currently the CEO of OUTCOAST, an online LGBTQ travel website marketing the Gulf Coast of Florida as an LGBTQ-inclusive place to VISIT, CELEBRATE, and LIVE. Rachel is also an avid event photographer and has captured photos for LGBT organizations around the world, including the IGLTA. To follow Rachel's adventures, follow her on instagram at @rachelcovello or at @outcoastfl