Thunder Bay

Travel organizations aim to make northwestern Ontario more welcoming with new LGBTQ tourism strategy

Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver are considered LGBTQ tourism hotspots in Canada, and now two regional organizations are looking to add northwestern Ontario to that list.

LGBTQ Canadian travel market estimated to be worth more than $12B annually

Two women sit on a bank of a river. Both are have backpacks on, and a rainbow flag hangs from one.
New marketing material from Tourism Thunder Bay in northwestern Ontario aims to show better representation as part a joint LGBTQ tourism strategy with Superior Country. (Tourism Thunder Bay/Facebook)

Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver are considered LGBTQ tourism hotspots in Canada, and now two regional organizations are looking to add northwestern Ontario to that list.

Earlier this week, Superior Country and Tourism Thunder Bay announced the completion of a new tourism strategy aimed at making the region a more welcoming and sought-after destination for people in the LGBTQ community.

"This really came about as a way to improve our reputation for being an inclusive destination, which isn't just the ethically right thing to do, but it's also good for business," said Paul Pepe, manager of Tourism Thunder Bay. 

Canada's 2SLGBTQI+ Chamber of Commerce (CGLCC) values the LGBTQ Canadian travel market at over $12 billion annually. The organization is also involved in assisting organizations like Superior Country and Tourism Thunder Bay to shape LGBTQ strategies through various programs, so they can better tap into the market.

Feeling 'safe' and 'included' important

Loren Christie, director of business development and strategy with the CGLCC, said travellers in the LGBTQ community spend an average of about $1,800 per trip, higher than most travellers. 

"It's a good group to focus on in terms of trying to get new travellers into the region. We have the money, we want to travel, we want to go places. Again, as long as it's somewhere where we feel safe and included, which is the big key point of it all, it is a market that could lead to a lot of things," Christie said. 

A man in a purple shirt and business jacket poses for a portrait.
Loren Christie is director of business development and strategy with Canada’s 2SLGBTQI+ Chamber of Commerce (CGLCC), which rolled out its Rainbow Registered program, a national accreditation for LGBTQ-friendly businesses and organizations, about two years ago. (Submitted by Loren Christie )

About two years ago, the CGLCC rolled out its Rainbow Registered program, which is a national accreditation for LGBTQ-friendly businesses and organizations.

In any city, it's popular for businesses or organizations to display Pride flags or rainbow stickers as a way to show they're a welcoming space. Christie said their Rainbow Registered program looks to take those businesses to the next level in terms of resources and training so they can better serve the LGBTQ community.

"But that's not where it ends. Inclusivity is a journey. It's not a check box," Christie said. "We're trying to start the conversation to get people to start thinking about these things in their day-to-day business operations." 

The new LGBTQ tourism strategy produced by Superior Country and Tourism Thunder Bay builds on this approach, and outlines inclusivity as being key to the industry.

"We need to ensure that our businesses and our attractions have the proper training in place to be inclusive to members of the community visiting — that is a very key component —and then in our own marketing pieces to ensure that we show representation of the [LGBTQ] community," said Dan Bevilacqua, executive director of Superior Country, which covers areas around Thunder Bay, the Lake Superior north shore and Greenstone.

The attraction of the outdoors

Superior Country and Tourism Thunder Bay issued surveys across Ontario, Manitoba and parts of Minnesota leading up to their new LGBTQ tourism strategy.

Bevilacqua said 40 per cent of respondents were from southern Ontario, while about 35 per cent were from northern Ontario.

"It's very clear that the number one factor of the 2SLGBTQ community and choosing a destination is safety and security. So I anticipate that there will be quite a bit of emphasis put into that training and those resources," he said.

A glass of beer is pictured outside a restaurant in Thunder Bay, where pride flags can been seen hanging in the windows.
Canada’s 2SLGBTQI+ Chamber of Commerce (CGLCC) says the top concern for its community while travelling is safety, which is why the organization wants to provide training and resources to businesses to help them achieve a truly welcoming space. (Tourism Thunder Bay/Facebook)

Pepe, the manager of Tourism Thunder Bay, said the survey also points to a "perfect match" between tourism interests within the LGBTQ community and the northwest.

"When we look at the top things that the LGBTQ markets are looking for, they're looking for outdoors, they're looking for trails, they're looking for nature, culinary, festivals, historic sites, water-based activities and beaches. Northwest Ontario has all of that."

The CGLCC said more and more tourism markets ARE putting in the work to become accredited by their organization and build their own LGBTQ tourism strategies.

In northwestern Ontario, building out its strategy to attract these travellers makes a lot of sense, Christie said. 

"Not all people in our community only want to go to hotspots and go to Pride in Toronto or Montreal. That's a one-off. People want outdoor experiences, they want adventure, they want to go hiking, fishing, camping," he said.

"It's not that our community is any different than the mainstream traveller, apart from the indication that they want to go somewhere safe. So I think it's great that people are taking the time to showcase all the wonderful things that you've got up north."


Olivia Levesque


Olivia is a Reporter/Editor based in her hometown of Thunder Bay, Ont. She is proud to live and work along the north shore of Lake Superior in Robinson-Superior Treaty Territory. You can contact her by emailing