Mr. Guaracino

Diversity Issues

Gay Tourism Spotlight: New Tourism Statistics and a Case Study

By Jeff Guaracino, Vice President, Communications, Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corp

Just like after 9/11, gays and lesbians have not stopped traveling. Interestingly, this travel segment is so resilient that neither terrorism nor a financial crisis can stop them from traveling. So, what is motivating gay and lesbian travel in a year when all market segments are down?

First, gay and lesbian travelers have the means and wherewithal to travel. As a group, they have a favorable buying power as compared to other minority groups. (Buying power represents the amount of money after taxes and obligations on things such as home mortgages, rent, transportation expenses, food, entertainment and travel). In 2009, it is estimated that the buyer power of U.S. gays and lesbians is $800 billion. Additionally, they also tend to have fewer children in the household as compared to their heterosexual counterparts. Less than 20% of gay and lesbians report raising children (source: Community Marketing Inc.) Therefore, they are not confined by school schedules and have a greater discretion to spend money on travel.

Gays and lesbians also have an insatiable desire to explore this world in search of their interests, passions and places where they can meet other gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) people like themselves. They often set their travel schedule around gay and lesbian film festivals GLBT sporting competitions, like a gay rodeo or softball series. They also plan and budget for special travel experiences, such as traveling on charted cruise ships to Alaska, the Caribbean and Europe with thousands of other GLBT people who share their interests. The largest gay tour operators, Atlantis Vacations, r family vacations and RSVP Vacations, announce their tours more than one year in advance. And, now in a number of U.S. states and around the world, gays and lesbians can either marry or enter into a civil union giving yet another reason to travel now and opening a brand new marketing opportunity, the gay honeymoon trip.

Even in tough economic times, gay travelers are still willing to pay a premium, also known as the 'gay premium,' just to meet other gay travelers or for a customized travel experience. Consider this. This summer, cruise lines are selling cabins for a week in Alaska as little as $499 per person. Two of the largest tour operators catering to gay and lesbian travelers, r family vacations and RSVP Vacations, are selling cabins on NCL and Holland America for no less than $1,000 per person for the week. While these vacation companies are discounting, slightly, and seeing more people wait longer to book their vacation, they are still commanding top prices that are the envy of the travel industry. That is a gay premium.

"Make no mistake; gay households, like all others, are struggling. No demographic research suggests these consumers are wealthier or better prepared during this economic downturn. Yet-they still believe that new destinations, new trips and new opportunities matter-which is a hopeful sign for all travel leaders," said Bob Witeck, principal of Witeck Combs Communications.

"GLBT households again confirm that travel remains a comparatively strong priority even within shrinking household budgets," Witeck said.

A word of warning! Gays are not throwing their money away. They are hard bargainers and they know if you are offering a good deal. They are savvy consumers. So don't think they will be paying "rack rate." Nearly 100% of gay travelers book their travel on the web, according to Community Marketing Inc., so they are empowered with information about the latest deals and discounts.

Smart hoteliers are finding cleaver ways to earn revenue from gay and lesbian travelers. The Philadelphia Loews Hotel is hosting the Liberty Gay Rodeo Association, expected to generate more than 1,000 hotel room nights at an average rate of $114 per night. While this rate is around $24 less than the average daily rate one year ago, it is much higher than the rates the convention hotel is earning by selling rooms through a third-party discounter. In New Jersey, The Empress Hotel, a gay-owned beach resort hotel, is offering a free Monday or Thursday night if the traveler stays three nights over the weekend. Nationally, Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants are offering gay travelers a free night plus a $50 room credit all summer long and Orbitz is offering a $100 discount on five night packages or more.

If you are considering making the case to launch a marketing and sales program to get your share of the $70 billion dollars that gays and lesbians will spend on travel this year in the U.S.(source Community Marketing Inc.), consider these additional statistics:

o GLBT adults expect to make 1.5 leisure trips and one business trip this summer (source Witeck Combs/Harris Interactive) o To reduce total travel trip costs, 69% of GLBT adults will seek less expensive accommodations. (source: Witeck Combs/Harris Interactive) o GLBT adults who traveled to Philadelphia, PA in spring 2009 for a GLBT event or festival report spending 5% more on their hotel accommodations this year than they did in 2005, despite the recent decrease in Philadelphia ADR. They also report staying longer, three days in 2009 compared to 2.4 days in 2005. (source: Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation) o Research studies estimate that between six and seven percent of the adult U.S. population self-identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual, equating to roughly 15 million people, broken down to eight million men and six million women. (source: Witeck-Combs/Harris Interactive and the Kaiser Family Foundation).

Additional research is ongoing in the gay and lesbian travel market. In August, Community Marketing will launch the LGBT Consumer Index 2009. This study, running throughout the month of August, will help marketers understand how gay and lesbian people are changing their consumer behaviors during this recessionary time. In the fall, Community Marketing will conduct its 14th Annual Gay and Lesbian Tourism Study.

For more information, check out these web sites: www.witeckcombs.com or www.communitymarketinginc.com , www.outnowconsulting.com, www.iglta.org, or www.gayandlesbianmarketing.com.

Case Study

Founded by Bill Kimpton in 1981, San Francisco-based Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants is the first and leading collocation of boutique hotels with chef-driven, destination restaurants throughout the United States and Canada. The hotel group is known for highly personalized guest services and takes pride in its social responsibility programs. In 2006, Kimpton was able to track over five million in business from the gay and lesbian community and its known that this figure represents just a fraction of the revenue that the hotel earns from gay and lesbian travelers who don't self-identify through Kimpton's loyalty program.

In addition to being an innovative hospitality-industry leader, Kimpton has also been a leader in GLBT equality for well over a decade. This support comes from its progressive roots of forming in San Francisco during the beginning of the AIDS epidemic. In the early years of HIV, Kimpton lost many employees to the disease. With support from management, Kimpton launched an eight point GLBT community involvement program in 2002-setting a new standard for other hotel companies. This comprehensive market strategy earned Kimpton tremendous loyalty in the GLBT community and awards.

One cornerstone of the eight point GLBT community marketing strategy is the InTouch loyalty program. The goal of the GLBT program is to develop a base of loyal GLBT customers that love Kimpton so much that they will become advocates for the company and individual hotels. The company encourages customers to join the GLBT list of InTouch through its website, marketing materials and special events. In 2006, more than 10,000 gay and lesbian travelers joined the program and "outed" themselves to the company.

Jeff Guaracino is VP of communications for the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation (GPTMC). He manages national and regional communications, the visiting journalist program, content development and corporate communications. Jeff specializes in communications programs to African-American, Hispanic, Canadian and gay and lesbian travelers. The Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation (GPTMC) makes Philadelphia and The Countryside® a premier destination through marketing and image building. Mr. Guaracino can be contacted at 215-599-2290 or jeff@gptmc.com Extended Bio...

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