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On Wednesday April 1st, Stephan Hengst and Patrick Decker from Big Gay Hudson Valley were the feature speakers at Dutchess County Tourism’s “Lunch and Learn” series at the historic Mills Mansion in Staatsburg. The pair spoke to a forum of business owners and operators on strategies for making their organizations more appealing and welcoming to local LGBT customers and visitors from outside the region.

Hengst and Decker covered a wide variety of topics including national statistics on travel and spending habits of the LGBT community, case studies on regions that have a strong appeal to LGBT travelers and strategies that small businesses can employ in their marketing and operations.

“It’s really important for consumers from any demographic to see a bit of themselves in a company’s marketing message,” said Decker. “LGBT consumers are no different. We go to far too many trade shows or wedding shows where businesses want to be gay-affirming, yet all of their images feature a mom, a dad and two kids. Businesses looking to expand their focus and attract LGBT consumers need to be aware of the importance of diversity in their messaging.”

Hengst spoke at length about the appeal of traditional gay vacation hot spots. “Places like Provincetown, Key West and Palm Springs are artist’s colonies that have always welcomed those who went against the grain of popular culture. In days past that included the LGBT community. With the mainstreaming of marriage equality,” he continues, “gay people are looking beyond traditionally ‘gay places’ when planning their travel. The Hudson Valley has a fabulous collection of arts & culture, heritage sites, outdoor recreation, food-focused destinations and so much more that would make a dream itinerary for any LGBT traveler. We’re perfectly equipped to become the next great gay travel destination.”

For more information about planning a trip in the Hudson Valley, check out the business listings and happenings on as well as the resources at Dutchess County Tourism and Travel Hudson Valley.