Fort Lauderdale Welcomes 2017 With Ads Featuring Transgender Models

LGBT visitors bring $1.5 billion to city's economy

Fort Lauderdale tourism—which has been courting lesbian and gay visitors for decades—on New Year's Eve will roll out a new campaign that could be a first in the travel category, with transgender models starring in mainstream media ads.

The Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau advertising campaign, created by Fort Lauderdale-based Starmark International, is kicking off with two new videos on twin billboards at 1515 Broadway and on a bowtie billboard at 1500 Broadway, both in New York's Times Square. 

The first video will start running Saturday morning, Dec. 31, and will feature two men, a woman and a transgender model wearing New Year's Eve headgear, drinking flutes of champagne as they sail the Atlantic off Fort Lauderdale Beach. The ad's transgender star is Isabella Santiago, a Venezuelan model who was Miss World Transgender in 2014. The copy says "Hello, sunny" and "Hello, 2017," as well as "Greater Fort Lauderdale." 

On Jan. 2, the video will change to depict the same four people now simply sailing, with copy saying, "Hello, winter blues."


The videos are a continuation of the destination's 5-year-old "Hello, sunny" campaign, which even owns the website According to bureau officials, the destination has relied on this concept because the word sunny "defines the climate" and also "stands for the breezy lifestyle that exists here, from the sea grass to the sawgrass."

The bureau will greatly expand both the media and reach of the campaign in the new year.  Fifteen-second spot TV and cable ads featuring transgender models will run in New York, Chicago and Boston this winter; TV advertising also will run within Florida during the summer. 

Other mainstream media where the campaign will run include The New York Times' T Magazine, Chicago Tribune's Trib Magazine and GQ. One print ad depicts the four models from the Times Square videos sailing, with copy that says, "Hello, good life." 

Advertising will also run in LGBTQ digital and print media, both domestic and international, including Instinct, Man About World and Via-G Brazil. Copy in one of those ads—which depicts two men drinking coffee at a popular local coffee shop called the Alchemist—says "Hello, daily grind."

Fort Lauderdale began marketing to the LGBT community in 1996, when it ran its first dedicated campaign for gay and lesbian travelers. It was also the first convention and visitors bureau with an LGBT-centric vacation planner, and the first to create a link to a dedicated LGBT travel website on its own website's home page. This past fall, it was the site of the Southern Comfort Transgender Conference, which had taken place since its founding in Atlanta and which it had actively pursued.

Richard Gray, managing director of the LGBTQ market for the bureau, said, "Using trans models in our mainstream campaign says who we are as a destination: cosmopolitan, edgy, diverse, inclusive, authentic and accepting. We are the only destination in the world that is using trans people in mainstream marketing initiatives. That is a huge statement in itself, highlighting this destination's commitment to diversity, inclusion and equality. We want all travelers to Greater Fort Lauderdale to be free to be themselves, to be free to be accepted, and most of all, to be safe and respected."


At the World Travel Market trade show in London in November, Dutch consulting company Out Now estimated that the global value of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender travel market is now more than $211 billion in consumer spending annually.

Ian Johnson, CEO of Out Now, said "the global LGBT market continues to be one of healthy growth and opportunities for a growing number of travel industry participants. However, the LGBT consumer market continues to raise its expectations, and there is much work to be done by the industry in the areas of communications improvements, strategy development, training and quality assurance for LGBT travelers. LGBT people expect the same level of welcome and respect as all people do when they travel."

According to Gray, 1.5 million LGBT travelers visit Fort Lauderdale annually, spending some $1.5 billion; the total number of visitors to the destination each year is 14.5 million, spending $14 billion. 

He also said Fort Lauderdale will spend $8.5 million on advertising in 2017, a slight increase over 2016.