The same sex marriage breakthrough and an overall better understanding of the gay and lesbian market is turning into big opportunity for hoteliers. While the LGBT traveler has had specialized travel opportunities in the past, the hotel industry is just starting to realize the profit potential of this specialized group.
And like any niche group, the LGBT community is being wooed more often and with more sophisticated marketing messages. Brands are focusing more than ever on weddings and travel packages designed to woo and wow this emerging market.
Here are tips to help your hotel adjust to being more “gay-friendly,” and transitional steps to introduce to employees, within marketing plans, partnerships and even social media.
There is a long list of associations, organizations and clubs that advocate for gay people and their constitutional rights. Your hotel should consider joining these associations to garner important relationships and create new alliances. Not only does this strengthen your reputation amongst the gay community but it attracts gay travelers to a hotel that shows they are not afraid to “show their true colors.”
In March 2012, the Hilton Hotels & Resorts brand launched “Stay Hilton. Go Out.” as its first lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender traveler engagement campaign and today offers unique packages to more than 460 properties. Nancy Deck, vice president of full service and multi-brand marketing for Hilton Worldwide said, “the program was anchored by a global LGBT-themed consumer package and included sponsorships and partnerships with many high-profile LGBT organizations. This year we modified the package to offer high-speed Internet, a one-year digital subscription to OUT magazine, two welcome beverages and late checkout, where and when available.
With the number of LGBT events on the rise, hoteliers should capitalize on annual events and festivals popular amongst the LGBT community. Hilton has sponsored high-profile LGBT events, including The Advocate’s 45th anniversary party, Gay Days Orlando, WorldPride London, Atlanta Pride and OUT100. Become familiar with what your own city offers to the LGBT audience and do your research into how you may get involved. Is there an opportunity to create a special room and festival package? Perhaps an offer that most people would find hard to pass up, such as a $100 dining credit during the festival weekend with the purchase of a two-night stay.
Colton Peterson, front desk supervisor for Hilton Sedona Resort & Spa, said, “Sedona is a popular LGBT destination and our hotel has supported the LGBT community for quite some time, including hosting the Sedona LGBT Pride Festival. Although business has always been strong from LGBT travelers, the ‘Stay Hilton. Go Out.’ package gives us a specific group code by which we can measure performance and an umbrella marketing campaign with a strong call to action.”
In any business, marketing is key so why not integrate new marketing strategies to more effectively reach this audience? Creating LGBT offerings and not properly marketing them is like having a great invention and not telling anyone about it. If your hotel has the marketing dollars, consult with the right professionals and identify ways to reach that target consumer.
“Iowa is one of the states that has legalized same-sex marriage, and since its legalization, our area has seen an increased demand in same-sex wedding ceremonies and receptions,” said General Manager for Coralville Marriott Hotel & Conference Center, Jeff Peller. “In an effort to market towards this growing demographic, we have created wedding collateral featuring same-sex couples.”
Not only do gay travelers have a high demand for leisure and international travel, but a majority of travelers in this segment will go out of their way to purchase products and services marketed directly to them. Use real people and capture real-life images in your campaigns. Marketing initiatives, when executed the right way, move your audiences and drives them to take action (by finding more about your LGBT packages, for instance).
“If you feel you have a product or service that would appeal to the LGBT community, to enable you to capture their revenue and loyalty you must market to them specifically and in a manner that would appeal to the audience,” said John Tanzella, executive director of the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association (IGLTA).
And there may be no other way more successful to understanding the LGBT consumer than by asking them. As a hotelier, research is imperative so do it thoroughly and with a sincere interest in the findings. “To ensure that the customer’s perspective was incorporated into our plans, we conducted focus groups across the country; we wanted to hear first-hand what LGBT guest thought of Marriott and also, what they expected of Marriott. We listened and we learned,” said Peller.
The backbone of many hotels is its employees as these are the individuals that are representing your brand and your mission to your guests and within your venues. If you are taking the step to make your hotel more welcoming for the gay traveler, take the initiative to acknowledge your employees first. While, for obvious reasons, you can’t ask your employees for a show of hands of who is gay and who is straight, you can create an environment that is safe and accepting for all team members.
Through its diversity efforts, Kimpton Hotels has created a program called Kimpton Gay and Lesbian Employee Networkk (KGLEN) that provides a forum in each Kimpton city where gay employees can comfortably discuss common interests and challenges they may have in the workplace.
When your employees can trust its management team and learn to understand, accept and celebrate people’s differences, it’s often reflected in how they treat your hotel guests. Not to say that gay guests and straight guests should by any means be treated differently, it’s critical that your employees can recognize the fine line between making a guest feel welcome and making them feel segmented. When gay guests arrive to check in at your hotel, front desk personnel should be well-trained to handle questions like how many beds should be in a guest’s room with just the right amount of sensitivity. Invest in educating your employees and it will pay off.
If you haven’t already noticed, social media is taking over and influencing every industry around the globe. If only I had a dollar for every time I heard “’like’ us on Facebook to win…” or “we want to hear more on Twitter so tweet us and use so-and-so hashtag…” News travels fast and in the LGBT community, perhaps news travels just a few speeds faster so ensure that you and your social media outlets are up to par and ready for social engagement. Take advantage of the different voices you have and reach the LGBT community through these various channels.
“The global gay community is small and it talks,” said Darren Cooper, senior consultant for Out Now Consulting, an international company based in the Netherlands that specializes in marketing to the gay community.
Perhaps attach a unique hashtag on your marketing collateral. This not only helps stir a conversation about the promotion, but it should also help you track how well your LGBT package is performing. Is it creating the buzz that you had hoped for? Post about LGBT offerings on Facebook and Twitter and to take it a step further, drive your social media traffic back to your hotel’s website when booking a room. Create a specific link that directs them back to your booking page and there, they can find more information on why they should stay with you.
“I sometimes say the difference between gay people and the main stream is that gay people are more tethered to their devices,” said Don Pickens, principal of Elagro Properties which owns Casa Cupula, a gay-friendly resort in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. In 2002 when Casa Cupula first opened, a community marketing group data showed that 66% of gay people were using the internet to book travel while 33% were main stream guests.
“Casa Cupula is on Facebook and Twitter. Our emails are constantly more and more interactive and we do our best to offer our guests the experience, both in the hotel and online,” Pickens said.
“Marriott’s popular LGBT travel portal, www.marriott.com/gaytravel
is an important tool in our overall outreach and a way for every property to connect with the audience and to share our promotions,” said Peller. “One feature that makes this site unique, and to stand out from others – to the best of our knowledge, it is the only LGBT travel site that is accessible in five languages: English, German, Spanish, French and Portuguese.”
The opportunities to attract the gay traveler to your hotel are endless. The new relationships are significant and the potential for profits is remarkable.
“In the United States and Canada alone, LGBT travelers general $65 billion of the $1.3 trillion produced from travel and tourism annually,” said Deck.
Nielsen, a leading global information company, measured the shopping and purchase behaviors of participating households and showed that on any given trip, same-sex partnered households spend at comparable rates to the average U.S. household ($50 average spend per trip vs. $46 average spend per trip for all U.S. households).
“Now with gay marriage bringing forth the subject, it’s not strange anymore. People go out with their different friends and to different places, and they aren’t as restricted anymore. Where do gay people go? To gay bars because they are accepted there. These people are traveling the same way too so if hotels are smart, they would be broadening their efforts to reach this audience and letting them know that their hotel is more than prepared to accept them, no matter what their sexual preference,” said Pickens.