Getting gay hitched in Toronto is just the beginning, say city leaders looking to expand their share of the estimated $55 billion gay and lesbian tourism market.

Time was when Toronto's endearing Church Wellesley Village used to suffice for gay tourists looking for gay-friendly bars, restaurants and quaint antique shops. That was so Clinton-era. Competition for today's sophisticated gay traveler is downright cutthroat. And Canada's largest city is ready to elbow its way into some of that action.

Since 2005, Toronto's visitor and convention bureau has tripled its budget aimed at the gay dollar to almost $500,000 this year, reports the Globe and Mail.

A quick flip through Out Traveler's 2008 Reader's Choice Awards, however, reveals Toronto still has much ground to cover. Readers appear to favor Buenos Aires, Barcelona, New York City and San Francisco best.

Still, Toronto's five-year-old gay advisory panel for Tourism Toronto has closed some important deals of late.

In May, Toronto plays host to the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association convention. Organizers expect the event to pull in 500 members to Toronto.

“Toronto is a very desirable city for the community because of all the things it has to offer: culture, a large local [gay] community and easy side trips to Niagara and Ottawa,” John Tanzella, executive director of IGLTA told the Globe and Mail. “It is very appealing.”

Other gay events coming to town include the International Gay Rodeo Association in October.

A week-long festival aimed at attracting gay tourists to the Church Wellesley Village – Toronto's gay neighborhood – is now in its third year. The festival of food and films draws 55,000 people to the village on Halloween night.

“It has been hugely beneficial for us,” says David Wootton, a Church Wellesley Village Business Improvement Area coordinator. Tourism Toronto partnered with community leaders in marketing the event in the U.S. and England.

And, as gay marriage in California is put on ice, Toronto offers gay and lesbian couples a warm welcome.