Jeff Guaracino, the chief strategy and communications officer at Atlantic City Alliance and former vice president of communications at Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation (now Visit Philly), was late last month elected as the board chair of the International Gay and Lesbian Tourism Association Foundation.
Guaracino, 41, takes over leadership from founding board president Charlie Rounds, who will remain on the board.
Guaracino explained that the foundation, which originated in 2012, is a different entity than the association, which has existed for more than 30 years.
“The goal of the IGLTA is primarily business to business: people who sell travel, like RSVP Vacations or Hilton, and then people who buy travel, like meeting-planner folks. It’s designed to really help grow the global business of travel,” he said. “But the mission of the foundation is different. Our job is to do education, as well as to cultivate future generations of leaders in LGBT travel through our scholarship program and initiatives that are educational in nature.”
For instance, Guaracino said, the foundation is undertaking a pioneering research study of LGBT travelers in China, an understudied population.
“China is so huge, but no one has a really good understanding of the LGBT traveler in China. The culture is more closed,” he said. “So it’s very exciting to begin to quantify what the market could look like and how gay or lesbian travelers in China are different, or not, than those in the United States.”
Its scholarshp program helps students from all over the world — Africa, South America, Europe, North America — attend its annual convention.
Guaracino said he had an opportunity to attend an LGBT tourism conference more than 10 years ago, shortly after starting at GPTMC.
“It opened my eyes to the global network of people who are connecting communities through tourism,” he said.
Attending that conference, he said, was influential to his work in helping to lead the groundbreaking LGBT-tourism initiative GPTMC launched in 2003, “Get Your History Straight and Your Nightlife Gay.”
He said he learned through his work in Philadelphia and Atlantic City that he has a knack for helping entitites that are in their early stages, like the IGLTA Foundation, find their footing.
“GPTMC was still really less than 5 when I joined it and I helped launch and built out and develop programs. Then I went to the AC Alliance and have helped build up programs and launch the organization,” he said. “I tend to find I’m very, very good at things that need new definition and need to incubate over time. I’m good at the second, third and fourth baby steps of an organization.”
His election, Guaracino said, is a win for the city’s continued LGBT work.
“A Philadelphian being the head of an international foundation continues Philadelphia’s leadership position; Philadelphia is seen as an LGBT leader in many areas — whether it’s the tourism campaign, senior housing or for the first civil-rights marches. And if we can really make a difference in other people’s lives and change minds and attitudes on LGBT travel and about our community, that’s the real win.”
For more information, visit www.igltafoundation.org.