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Creating repeat visitors with the San Diego LGBT Visitors Center

By Ian Morton | Profiles in Advocacy

Pride 2018 has successfully come and gone, which brought thousands of domestic and international visitors to San Diego, particularly in Hillcrest and Balboa Park. While our LGBT bars usually have lines out the door, especially on the weekend nights of Pride, I felt it was worth investigating how this past weekend could translate to future success for LGBTQ-owned and affirming businesses. To that end, I met up with Eddie Reynoso, founder and director of the San Diego LGBTQ Visitors Center, to discuss the topic.

At the risk of dating myself, I fondly remember using a physical copy of the “Damron Guide” when I would enter a new city to explore the LGBT scene. Now, with Yelp and social media connections, it seems much simpler to collect travel data. During our talk, Reynoso and I discussed the relevance of a visitor’s center in this day and age.

“There are some who might see a visitor’s center as an outdated concept, but it’s really just a different way of doing business,” Reynoso explained. “It’s been estimated that about 78 percent of travelers will pick up a physical brochure instead of, or in addition to, using online tools like Yelp. That same demographic is also more likely to take the recommendation of a concierge or other local person, when choosing their travel activities.

“A primary goal of the Visitor Center is to act as that LGBT concierge,” Reynoso continued. “Often, visitors will call before their trip to ask for recommendations, and we assess the purpose of the trip, dates they will be in San Diego, and the travelers’ interests. From there, we can make recommendations and connections to businesses and events that are LGBT owned, operated and/or friendly.”

Our discussion also illuminated the value in expanding the footprint of the Pride experience beyond Hillcrest. While we want to see our core neighborhood benefit from San Diego Pride, there is also an opportunity to flex the muscle of the LGBT dollar. By helping travelers create a more expansive itinerary, the Visitors Center demonstrates the value of all business owners and event producers to maintain affirming spaces for LGBT visitors and patrons year-round.

While the value of having face-to-face, phone call, or even email discussions were not lost on either of us, we did concede that the upcoming generations of travelers would likely be more tech-reliant. Anticipating this, Reynoso has partnered with the San Diego Gay and Lesbian News (SDGLN) online Equality Business Directory and Stoli Vodka, brokering a $10,000 matching grant through the Stoli Group. These funds will assist the Visitors Center in expanding and updating the platform, which was launched by SDGLN in 2010 “to connect LGBT-supportive businesses with the LGBT community”.

Ian Morton

As the San Diego LGBT Visitors Center grows, so does the need for volunteers and board members. If you’d like to explore and find ways to get involved, visit lgbtvisitorscenter.org or call 619-432-LGBT (5428).

— Ian Morton has been in San Diego for over 20 years, working in the LGBTQ and HIV fields. He is currently a full-time student and works with the San Diego Black LGBTQ Coalition and the Y.E.S. San Diego LGBTQ Youth Conference. Recommendations for individuals and groups to highlight in Profiles in Advocacy may be emails to iandanielsmusic@gmail.com.

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