To successfully attract lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender consumers and reinforce their status as “gay-friendly” establishments, hotels look way beyond the rainbow.
“At one time, you could in essence wave a rainbow flag and get a lot of attention,” says David Paisley, senior projects director with Community Marketing, Inc., a resource for LGBT market research and strategic consulting. “That’s not true today.”
LGBT community outreach programs are no longer something that only a handful of hotels have to offer—all major brands market to this important niche segment. “I don’t know of a hotel chain that’s not actively pursuing the gay and lesbian market,” Paisley says.
According to a study developed by the American Hotel & Lodging Association’s Multicultural and Diversity Advisory Council, titled “The Power and Opportunity of Multicultural Markets,” LGBT travelers accounted for 10 percent, or $63 billion, of total domestic travel spending in 2010. This fairly large niche market—the study lists the total LGBT population in the U.S. as 15.5 million for 2010—is active in travel and responsive to efforts by the travel industry to serve its needs. LGBT travelers are aware of destinations that are more welcoming than others or have events geared specifically toward the LGBT travel market, the report states.
“There is great potential from the LGBT community for our hotels, especially in terms of high-end leisure travel,” says Scott Seed, director of marketing programs and relationship marketing for Hyatt Hotels and Resorts.
LGBT consumers appreciate when hotel brands are actively involved in the market, so it’s important to sponsor organizations and fundraising events that are meaningful to the community, in addition to advertising in gay and lesbian media, Paisley says. Personnel policies should also be in line with being a gay-friendly property.
“The LGBT community actively seeks to associate themselves with companies, products, and services that are openly supportive of the community as a whole,” says Ian Reisner, owner and developer of The Out NYC, a gay urban resort for tourists and locals that was announced by Parkview Developers in July.
In a “Gay & Lesbian Tourism Study” released by Community Marketing last year, 4,854 self-identified gay and lesbian participants living in the United States indicated that the top five hotel brands that have best promoted themselves to the LGBT community are Kimpton, W, Hilton, Hyatt, and Marriott.
LGBT outreach was originally focused more toward urban, dual-income consumers without children, Paisley says, but other sectors like gay-family travel are gaining steam. “Now, as the market is expanding, all sorts of brands are having success,” he says.
To appeal to the LGBT segment, many gay-friendly hotels have memberships with the International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association (IGLTA), which connects businesses in the LGBT tourism industry. Its partners include Accor, Caesars Entertainment, Hyatt, MGM Resorts, Hilton Worldwide, Marriott, Millennium Hotels and Resorts, Red Roof Inn, Sol Melia, Axel Hotels, and World Rainbow Hotels.
Many big chains are involved with the Human Resource Campaign (HRC) and its Corporate Equality Index, an annual report that rates corporate America’s treatment of LGBT employees. Carlson, Harrah’s, Hyatt, Kimpton, Marriott, Starwood, and Wynn are among the companies that received top ratings for 2011.
Individual properties can recieve TAG Approved certification as a gay-friendly hotel based on their desire for gay travel revenues, employment policies, services, and support returned to the LGBT community. This means that the business treats heterosexual and domestic partners equally in personnel policies, provides LGBT diversity and sensitivity training for employees, empowers customers and employees to be “watchdogs” of its gay and lesbian business practices, gives back to its community, and employs staff members who reflect the diversity of its community. More than 1,800 LGBT welcoming hotels and attractions are currently TAG Approved.
Sponsorships of LGBT events and organizations also strengthen hotels’ relationship with the community. For instance, Kimpton has assisted HIV service organizations through employee volunteerism, corporate donations, and raising funds through special events for more than 20 years. In 2010, the campaign raised $150,000 for local HIV charities.
To demonstrate its commitment and stay involved with the LGBT community, Seed says Hyatt sponsors Equality Illinois’ annual dinner in Chicago, and partners with the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLADD) and the Point Foundation.
To engage with gay and lesbian consumers in a meaningful manner, Hyatt’s LGBT advertisements aim to authentically portray the community in a way that is bold and not vague, Seed says. Among the first national hotel chains to advertise in LGBT publications, Hyatt’s first LGBT advertisement featured two men in a romantic embrace by the pool at its Maui property. “No other hotel had portrayed gay couples so honestly,” Seed says.
One of Hyatt’s current online advertising campaigns can be seen on gaycities.com, a community-driven gay and lesbian city guide and travel site. Hyatt is the exclusive sponsor of the site’s “Answer” section, which allows gay and lesbian travelers to tap into the collective wisdom of the community regarding tips on good restaurants, clubs, and attractions in particular cities. “We’ve seen tremendous response in terms of online marketing the last couple years,” Seed says.
Hyatt has also been a longtime advertiser with Logo, an American digital cable TV channel with programs geared toward the LGBT community; TripOut Travel on LogoOnline; and Out and Advocate magazines.
“We’ve done research as to what’s most relevant to gay and lesbian consumers in terms of travel, and play it up in all of the communication we do,” Seed says.
Key findings and observations from Community Marketing’s aforementioned tourism study show that gay pride events continue to drive significant LGBT travel, LGBT professional events are growing, price and food trump LGBT-specific incentives for hotel purchases, and that safety is an important motivator. The results of the company’s 16th annual survey will be announced in November.
WEDDINGS AND HONEYMOONS
This past June, New York lawmakers voted to legalize same-sex marriage, opening up doors for hotels to offer same-sex wedding packages and honeymoons. (New York, the sixth and largest state where same-sex marriage is allowed, joins Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, and New Hampshire, as well as Washington, D.C.)
While same-sex marriage packages are nice for small weddings or honeymoons, and can be used as a marketing tool to gain media attention, Paisley says most packages won’t cut it because ceremonies and receptions are more often individualized and specific to each couple.
Many hotels have found a place to gain additional revenue by encouraging members of the local LGBT community to have custom wedding ceremonies and receptions at their property, and bring in room nights from families and friends in attendance. While there is some business to be had from out-of-staters who are traveling to New York to get married, “the real business is in the community,” Paisley advises, “the backlog of gay and lesbian couples that haven’t been able to get married in the past 40 years.”
In cities like Miami and Fort Lauderdale, there is a big push from convention and visitors bureaus for newlywed gay and lesbian couples in New York to come down to Florida for their honeymoon, Paisley says. “It’s an excellent opportunity for Florida properties. Fort Lauderdale and Miami have a long history with the LGBT community to drive honeymoons.”
There are also opportunities for states that don’t have same-sex marriage but have legalized domestic partnerships or civil unions. On the West Coast, Paisley says properties in vacation destinations such as Hawaii have opportunities with the honeymoon and civil unions business.
Though many hotels offer programming that targets the LGBT community, The Out NYC’s Reisner says being “gay friendly” is as far as they’re able to go, whereas his gay hotel will be built with the wants and needs of gay travelers and locals in mind.
Plans for the complex include a 105-room boutique hotel; an 11,000-square-foot nightclub, lounge, and cabaret; a café and restaurant; three courtyards; a business/conference center; function space; and a wellness center. XL Nightclub is scheduled to open this fall, in the first phase of the project. Reisner says they like to refer to the property as “straight friendly,” because straight friends, family, and allies are also welcome.
Despite recent advances in the gay rights movement, such as same-sex marriage, Reisner says there is still a significant draw for many members of the LGBT community to vacation and socialize in a predominately gay environment. “While gay-friendly hotels are wonderful and are thankfully growing in number every day,” he says, “The Out NYC will offer a larger community environment that these other properties do not.”