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People dance on a float as it passes by during the annual Vancouver Pride Parade in downtown Vancouver, British Columbia, Sunday, July 31, 2011. (Rafal Gerszak for The Globe and Mail/Rafal Gerszak for The Globe and Mail)
People dance on a float as it passes by during the annual Vancouver Pride Parade in downtown Vancouver, British Columbia, Sunday, July 31, 2011. (Rafal Gerszak for The Globe and Mail/Rafal Gerszak for The Globe and Mail)

Tour operators forbidden from marketing Vancouver as gay-friendly in China Add to ...

In its new China tourism strategy, the B.C. government has agreed to ignore the fact that Vancouver is a destination for gay tourism.

A marketing document released on the eve of Premier Christy Clark’s trade mission to China states that tourism operators marketing trips to the province for Chinese people must agree not to promote casinos, gambling or gay tourism.

The directive has angered gay activists in B.C.

B.C. Tourism Minister Pat Bell, in conference call from China on Monday, said the federal government accepted the terms when it negotiated approved-destination status with China last year, and B.C. had no say in the matter.

Mr. Bell’s office last Thursday released How to Market Your Business to China, one of its a tourism business essentials guides. Buried midway through the 60-page document is a single line noting that B.C. operators are prohibited from promoting casinos, gambling and gay tourism in China.

Approved-destination status allows tourism operators in Canada to market their services in China, and Chinese tour operators to organize and promote travel packages to Canada.

“Those are identified by the Chinese central government as areas where they don’t think there is opportunity to market into British Columbia,” he told reporters. In a later call, he said B.C. simply wanted to ensure that its tourism operators understood the rules: “We’re not necessarily endorsing the specifics.”

Ms. Clark, in a conference call from Shanghai, was caught off guard when asked about the restriction. She refused to comment, telling reporters she wasn’t aware of the details. “One of the things we want to do in our relationship with China is engage more. ... That will help further some of the ideals we hold dear in Canada.”

Tourism Vancouver devotes an entire section of its website to gay tourists, enthusing: “The largest gay population in Western Canada lives in this ocean-wrapped and snow-capped city [with]a wide variety of restaurants, coffee shops, pubs and boutiques catering to gays and lesbians.”

Candice Gibson, Tourism Vancouver’s consumer marketing director, said gay tourism is worth more than $60-billion annually around the globe. “Vancouver is a gay-friendly destination,” she said. “Obviously, we want people all around the globe to be aware of that – but our focus is on the U.S. market.”

Angus Praught, owner of GayVan Travel, which specializes in bringing gay travellers to Vancouver, said he was unaware of the restriction. “It’s really caught me by surprise,” he said. “We’ve been doing this for more than a decade.”

Jennifer Breakspear, executive director of Qmunity, which bills itself as B.C.’s queer resource centre, said she was disappointed that B.C. would accept the restriction as the price of doing business in China.

Her organization hosted thousands of international tourists at Pride House in Vancouver and Whistler during the 2010 Winter Olympic Games. “We had a lot of media exposure about how Vancouver, British Columbia, is a very progressive and accepting destination where tourists could be comfortable being who they are,” she said. “I guess the government is going to toe the line in China, but it’s troubling back at home.”

Spencer Chandra Herbert, the New Democratic Party critic for tourism, said the province should have at least expressed some regret in accepting China’s terms.

“For the provincial government to be putting out a brochure without a disclaimer is troubling to me,” he said. “It sends the wrong message when we are supposed to be – and should be – a society fighting discrimination and standing up for love, whether it be between two men or two women or a man and a woman.”

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