PHOTOS: Florida’s 1st LGBTQ+ tourism conference held in Tampa

FLOCC 2023. Photo by Ryan Williams-Jent.

TAMPA | The inaugural Florida Out Coast Convention was held Aug. 1-3 at the Hilton Tampa Downtown, welcoming nearly 150 people to the first conference focused solely on Florida’s LGBTQ+ tourism industry.

FLOCC was hosted by OutCoast LLC, which has supported the state’s LGBTQ+-inclusive businesses and destinations since 2017. Destination marketing officials and other professionals attended to represent regions from across Florida, joined by industry experts from New York, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C. and more.

Participants first gathered July 31 for an opening social, followed by three days of keynote speeches, panel presentations and specialized workshops. OutCoast CEO Rachel Covello began by reflecting on FLOCC’s historical nature.

“I’m just thrilled to have you all here in one space,” she shared Aug. 1. “I travel all over Florida, I love Florida, and there are so many destinations in this room. I wanted to bring everyone here because these are topics that are not being talked about in tourism spaces around this state.”

The opening session was emceed by social media influencers Jaime and Katie Filer and began with remarks from Tampa Mayor Jane Castor. She later shared her thoughts via social media:

The mayor celebrated the greater Tampa Bay region’s commitment to inclusion before “Navigating Florida Tourism Advisories.” The panel was moderated by Hospitality Development Consultant David Downing.

Panelists included Florida LGBTQ+ Democratic Caucus President Nathan Bruemmer, Empowering Differences President Ashley T. Brundage, International LGBTQ+ Travel Association Vice President LoAnn Halden and Visit Lauderdale CEO Stacy Ritter. They reflected on the merits of travel advisories issued by civil rights organizations like Equality Florida, released in response to Florida’s anti-LGBTQ+ laws.

The day’s breakout sessions included “Creating Transformative Experiences for Transgender Travelers,” “More Than Rainbows: How LGBTQ+ Groups Give Back” and “LGBTQ+ Senior Travel Trends.” A general session featured comedian Jeff Klein and “Why Diversity in Tourism Matters.”

The panel was moderated by Tourism Diversity Matters Executive Director Greg DeShields. He welcomed Visit Tampa Bay President Santiago Corrada, American Hotel & Lodging Association Foundation VP of Advancement Jennifer Clark Fugolo, openly LGBTQ+ Key West Mayor Teri Johnston and Double T Multimedia Owner Nick Romeo.

A second panel followed, “Social Media Marketing with LGBTQ Influencers.” Pink Media Owner Matt Skullerad moderated, joined by Jaime Filer, fitness coach and influencer; Orange142 Senior Digital Media Manager Emily Parli and Troy Petenbrink, known for developing content as The Gay Traveler. “Recruiting Hospitality Employees with Inclusion in Mind,” “Authentic Travel Experiences: Meeting Expectations” and “Developing an Inclusive Marketing Strategy” breakouts were held after that.

FLOCC’s second day was emceed by Tampa Bay entertainer Brianna Summers and Trevor Pettiford of Spectrum News 9. “The Impact of LGBTQ+ Market Segment Leaders at the DMO Level” moderated by Paradise Advertising CEO Barbara Karasek kicked things off, featuring panelists Pony Charvet, Richard Gray, Michelle Pirre and Dan Rios. They represented the Florida Keys, Visit Lauderdale, the Paradise Coast and the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau, respectively.

The day’s breakouts included “What’s Trending in LGBTQ+ Travel Planning?,” “Knowing and Sharing Your Inclusive Brand Story” and “Don’t Be a Drag: Dispelling Stereotypes & Understanding Impact,” sponsored by Watermark. Moderated by Summers, it featured her fellow entertainers Silver Foxx, Momma Ashley Rose and Angelique Young.

Featured entertainment included Jay Miah from Fox’s “Alter Ego” and Sarah Potenza from “America’s Got Talent,” which preceded “The Value of LGBTQ+ Bars, Venues and Events on Tourism” The general session was moderated by Watermark Managing Editor Ryan Williams-Jent, who welcomed Cocktail and The Wet Spot owner David Fischer, GayBarchives owner Art Smith, The Lady’s Room owner Vicki Gibson and Byron Green-Calisch, co-vice president of St Pete Pride.

Kevin Finke provided the conference’s keynote, highlighting the concepts of culture, inclusion and belonging in and outside of the workplace. Flamboyance followed, a ceremony in which Covello recognized six individuals or organizations with “Flamazing” awards.

Visit Lauderdale’s Ritter was honored as an Individual Ally and Walt Disney World received Tourism Ally. Naples Pride was recognized as an LGBTQ+ nonprofit while Alexander’s Guesthouse was honored as an LGBTQ+ Tourism Business. Locally, St Pete Pride was recognized as an LGBTQ+ event and Young was recognized as an LGBTQ+ leader.

“Leveraging Local and National LGBTQ+ Partnerships to Influence Buying Decisions” closed FLOCC on Aug. 3. Covello moderated the panel, welcoming FlockFest Director Kevin Clevenger, Naples Pride ED Cori Craciun, activist and author Arlene Goldberg and Stonewall Museum & Archives ED Robert Kesten. The result of a conference-long silent auction benefiting LGBTQ+ centers in Naples and Fort Myers was also revealed, raising over $2,800 for each.

“It was an honor to unite so many tourism industry experts and LGBTQ+ leaders in one space for learning and networking,” Covello says. “The connections and collaborations made in only three days are a testament to what can be accomplished when efforts are made to focus on inclusive tourism.

“Florida is a state that has historically welcomed all people,” she adds. “We will continue our work until our LGBTQ+ family feels invited and embraced in all corners of the sunshine state. Thank you to Visit Tampa Bay and all of our sponsors for believing in our work and investing in this convention.”

Watermark was proud to sponsor and attend the inaugural FLOCC. View our photos below.

Photos by/via Ryan Williams-Jent.

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