Las Vegas Sun

September 21, 2018

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Travel industry rolling out the rainbow carpet

Once the LGBT Memorial in New York City opens, which is expected this month, its designer, the multimedia artist Anthony Goicolea, plans to offer personal tours of the site in Hudson River Park through Airbnb’s Experience tours, exploring its composition of nine stones, some bisected by prismatic glass that radiate the colors of the LGBT flag.

“I’ll go over aspects of it that are not readily visible,” said Goicolea, including the fact that is it oriented toward the Statue of Liberty in a salute to equal justice.

This month is Pride month, a celebration of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities, and a time when the travel industry rolls out the rainbow carpet in special hotel and travel-related packages. This year, whether driven by the current conservative political climate or a maturing of travel campaigns that have been going on for a decade, the offerings are more inclusive; some feature activities and events that are introspective, philanthropic and activist.

“The travel industry has gone from trivial to the substantial in terms of how it markets to the LGBT community,” said Henry Harteveldt, a travel analyst and the president of the Atmosphere Research Group. “Whether it’s talks or sponsorship of LGBT youth centers or career day events or anything that shows sincere, genuine and comprehensive commitment to the LGBT community, travel brands are taking this seriously as part of their corporate social responsibility.”

There’s a financial incentive, of course. A survey by Community Marketing Inc., a San Francisco-based market research firm that focuses on the gay community, found that, on average, LGBT participants took 3.2 leisure trips, 1.4 business trips and 2.3 trips to visit friends or family in the 12 months preceding the survey, which was released last November. In comparison, AAA reported in 2017 that 70 percent of Americans took one or two vacations a year. CMI also found that 77 percent of the LGBT community has U.S. passports; the figure is roughly 42 percent in the general population.

A 2016 survey from Witeck Communications, a marketing firm that specializes in the community, put LGBT buying power at $917 billion.

“Compared to the average travel habits of Americans, the LGBT community does travel more frequently, so the propensity to capture that revenue is there,” said John Tanzella, the president and chief executive of the International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association. “But the community is very savvy to business and does its homework to make sure it’s legitimately interested in the community, not just getting the pink dollar. Are they taking care of their own employees and marketing with appropriate imagery? Are they there for the long haul?”

A little respect, say observers, goes a long way.

“What LGBT travelers appreciate is being recognized as humans, not just as a target marketed to with a special rate or two for one cocktail at the bar with little rainbow flags in the mojitos," Harteveldt said.

Observers credit the major hotel companies such as Marriott, Hilton and Kimpton for their sustained efforts, not just to market to the community, but to participate in it. For the past two years, Marriott has raised funds for Casa Ruby, a nonprofit that supports homeless LGBT youth, during Pride month.

“The core of what we do as a hotel is we provide safe spaces and shelter for our guests every day, so it makes sense to engage with community organizations that are doing similar things,” said Cherilyn Williams, the director of global portfolio marketing for Marriott.

Plenty of hotels are piling on incentives this month to attract LGBT travelers. The Refinery Hotel in New York is selling a package that includes walking alongside a float in the Pride March on June 24. The seven Joie de Vivre hotels in San Francisco are offering a 20 percent off promotion, bookable with the code PRIDESF and available through year end. Kimpton Hotels will donate $10 to the Trevor Project, which provides crisis intervention for LGBT youth, for each night booked online. Guests also get 15 percent off room rates.

Taking an advocacy path, W Hotels is expanding its Queer Me Out talk series featuring prominent members of the community discussing issues like political activism and the influence of social media. The hotel group also launched a new series of LGBT-centric destination guides, beginning with Mexico City.

“It’s how we use the power of the brand to stand for an audience that’s important to us and to make those issues heard by a broader audience,” said Anthony Ingham, the global brand leader at W.

Many destinations, too, are working hard to attract LGBT travelers. In Florida, the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau last fall held its first “Global LGBTQ Think Tank,” uniting travel industry leadership to discuss how to improve the experience for that community. The Madrid Tourist Board actively promotes LGBT travel beyond June, including holding Gayday Madrid in September and the gay film festival Lesgaicinemad in November. Las Vegas, Buenos Aires and Toronto have been active in their outreach; Visit Houston runs a site called MyGayHouston; and this month Visit Seattle launched its own campaign around the hashtag #weSEAlove.

“People are very aware about what their consumption choices say about them,” said Andrew Weir, the chief marketing officer for Tourism Toronto. “In a climate of greater hostility and an alarming degree of intolerance, many people want to make a statement about who they are and their own views of inclusivity.”

Some cruise lines and tour operators are also expanding their outreach. Celebrity Cruises held its first same-sex marriage at sea in January. Carnival Corp. recently earned a perfect score from the Human Rights Campaign in its Corporate Equality Index, which rates companies on their treatment of LGBT customers, investors and employees. Azamara Club Cruises hosts meet-and-mingle shipboard social affairs with Meet Me Onboard, the social network for LGBT cruise fans. R Family Vacations, an LGBTQ travel company, has partnered with Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection on adult and family itineraries this summer. This year, Latin Trails in Ecuador is launching two weeklong cruises in the Galápagos, one targeted to gay men and another to LGBT families.

Where LGBT travelers are interested in going isn’t that different from straight travelers, according to David M. Rubin, a Virtuoso travel adviser and the chief executive of DavidTravel in Corona del Mar, California. Foodies are big on Peru, he said. Iceland, Japan and Antarctica are hot. The most adventurous are interested in Iran and Ethiopia, treasure-filled countries where homosexuality is illegal and, in the case of Iran, punishable by death.

“We discuss the guidelines and how open or not open they can be,” said Rubin, who tries to book broad-minded guides and drivers. “We don’t believe in closing the world. We believe in opening the world. We are ambassadors as travelers and where we can be open in dialogue, it helps educate people.”