A national accreditation program that assesses whether businesses are friendly and welcoming to the LGBTQ+ community has not gotten any take-up on Prince Edward Island so far.
And the chair of this year's Pride P.E.I. board says the Island has some work to do before becoming a safe haven for all customers, travellers and workers.
"Where I think folks get disappointed, and end up in my email inbox, is when P.E.I. is advertising that we are a safe and inclusive space," said Lucky Fusca, who is also the executive director of the P.E.I. Transgender Network.
"[That] comes off as 'We've put in the resources and the funding to make sure that all of our businesses and vendors have the right tools and information to service anyone who's coming from this community,' when that's not the case."
Fusca said there's a term for companies that consider themselves to be inclusive when they are not upon closer examination: rainbow-washing.
"It can be very easy to think that you're an ally and that you're supportive of the community, and continue to involve with certain practices," they said — such as client or guest intake forms that use gendered language, or not offering gender-neutral public washrooms.
From marketing to washrooms
The Canadian Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce launched the Rainbow Registration program a year ago, with input from the non-profit group Tourism HR Canada and funding from the federal government.
The Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency contributed just over $340,000 earlier this year to the chamber to do work with businesses in the Atlantic region.
The chamber's co-founder and CEO, Darrell Schuurman, told CBC News that companies wanting to be registered undergo a thorough review of their policies and practices, staff training and education. That includes whether the business features same-sex couples in its marketing, for example, and uses inclusive language on its website.
"Those are great indicators to show how inclusive this business truly is," he said.
"Sometimes we may think those are small things, but those make a big difference to how any individual — and how an LGBT individual — is experiencing that company and whether they feel this is a safe and inclusive space or not."
Schuurman says the review of a business could take a few weeks to a few months.
Benefits for businesses
Fees for the first year are currently being waived for Atlantic businesses, but after that they can expect to pay an annual fee of at least $250 based on the size of the operation.
For that, approved vendors get a listing in an searchable online registry, and a Rainbow Registered Business decal to put in a visible place.
As of late August, only a handful of businesses in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick had applied for the Rainbow designation, and none at all on Prince Edward Island.
"It actually looks like there are currently not any businesses in P.E.I. that are in process unfortunately," Schuurman confirmed on Sept. 1.
Training also on the way
The Canadian Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce is also offering free diversity training and destination audits in Atlantic Canada.
Schuurman says it's a way to educate communities and businesses in the region about the value of the LGBTQ+ travel market, and what they can do to attract tourists from the community.
"When an LGBT traveller is looking to travel to a destination, the number one thing they are looking for is safety — making sure they feel comfortable and they feel welcome," said Schuurman.
Fusca agrees there are payoffs to be had for businesses that embrace inclusivity.
During this summer's Pride festival, they said, the chamber gave a lunch and learn session that included "very telling" numbers on the amount of money LGBTQ+ tourists spend when they are out and about in the world.
It is a demographic of folks that are not only wanting to travel, but they're willing to spend a good amount of money to have an amazing experience while doing so. — Lucky Fusca
"It's quite substantially higher than what we are seeing folks that are cisgender and/or heterosexual spending when they go on vacation — not to compare the two, but that's what the data did!" Fusca said with a laugh.
"It is a demographic of folks that are not only wanting to travel, but they're willing to spend a good amount of money to have an amazing experience while doing so."
They said that given how much the province is spending to grow its tourist market, it only makes sense to put resources into training and workshops to help businesses step up their inclusivity quotient.
"It almost seems like there's this … belief right now that this work is work that is done for free, when the reality is the amount of effort and work in the back end that goes into creating these programs is quite extensive," Fusca said.
"And then in addition to that, [there's] the emotional labour that is required from somebody, often within the community. To go into a space of folks that may or may not have done this training before can be very emotionally intensive."