In years past, the “family” market and the “gay’’ market were
mutually exclusive for travel agents. But no more.
Today, the travel industry is opening up to gays, lesbians and
bisexuals in ways that would have been considered taboo as recently
as the 1990s.
“The world is changing, and probably the most noticeable change
for the gay and lesbian market are cruises,” says Harlan Godes,
owner of Los Angeles-based Travel Express
(www.travelexpressla.com), a full-service, upscale travel agency
serving the gay community.
A recent, major tour announced by celebrity Rosie O’Donnell’s R
Family Vacations (www.rfamilyvacations.com) is one example of such
a cruise. R Family has booked the entire Norwegian Dawn for a
seven-day cruise departing July 11, 2004, and heading to both
family- and gay-friendly spots in Florida and the Bahamas.
“This product is being funded by Ms. O’Donnell as a result of
her coming out and vocally supporting gay-family initiatives,”
Godes says. “We have had ‘Gay Ski Weeks’ in Aspen, Whistler and
Lake Tahoe, and now more family-oriented and upscale resorts, like
Telluride, are jumping on the bandwagon. They’re investing
marketing dollars to create their own Ski Weeks in an attempt to
attract the gay market. It is very fashionable and very smart
business. And in a weakened economy, travel and tourism is more
prone to breaking barriers in order to improve their revenue and
Pricing for the R Family voyage starts at under $1,000, with a
$199 fare for children under age 2. GOGO Worldwide Vacations
(www.gogowwv.com) is the sole travel wholesaler for the cruise.
All of this means that gays, more than ever, have more outlets
to pursue when it comes to booking vacations or quick getaways, and
agents are taking advantage.
Major U.S. cities which would once accommodate gay tourists, but
quietly, out of fear of offending more-conservative travelers are
now launching decidedly public campaigns to pronounce themselves as
the gay-friendly town to visit.
Hotels and resorts are providing gay-sensitivity training to
Companies known for being relatively “buttoned down” are forming
partnerships with gay-travel companies to land a stake in the
And agents are finding more and more “niches within the niche”
to offer to their gay clientele.
“Diversity within the market is key now,” says Thomas Roth,
founder and president of San Francisco-based Community Marketing
Inc. (www.mark8ing.com), which helps the travel industry reach and
serve gay/lesbian/ bisexual customers.
“It used to be just the gay market. Then it was the gay/lesbian
markets they realized the preferences of the gay man were different
than that of the lesbian woman’s. Now, we’re seeing all kinds of
shades of gray when it comes to marketing,” Roth says.
The latest numbers demonstrate that this travel-market niche is
only getting more valuable. In a recent survey, Cambridge,
Mass.-based Forrester Research Inc. (www.forrester.com), found that
gay, lesbian and bisexual travelers reported they spend an average
of $2,262 a year for leisure trips compared to just $1,815 for
straight leisure travelers.
Gay, lesbian and bisexual travelers also averaged 4.9 leisure
trips a year, or 11 percent more than heterosexual travelers.
“The biggest difference is that, now, the travel industry sees
gays as the most valued of customers,” says agent Leigh Gernert,
director of Los Angeles-based Different Roads, a gay-specific
division opened by Tzell Travel (www.tzell.com).
Here are the latest ways the industry is taking advantage and
how agents can make the most of what’s out there:
In Philadelphia (www.gophila.com), local business and tourism
leaders have formed a Gay Tourism Caucus to promote the city. The
caucus has printed the city’s first gay visitors brochure and is
developing a “Pride Pass” to local gay clubs and businesses.
The city recently launched a three-year, $300,000 tourism
marketing campaign aimed at the gay travelers. The Wyndham
Philadelphia Hotel (www.wyndham.com) offers a gay-friendly package
including continental breakfast for two, and local gay
Similarly, in Oregon, “Gay Portland” is the first campaign of
its kind for this famously progressive city.
“We have always attracted gay visitors, but they’re getting more
sophisticated and the competition for the gay travel segment has
increased,” says Deborah Wakefield, spokesperson for Portland
In addition, nations such as Australia and Great Britain have
added gay divisions in their tourism offices.
Traditionally “straight” companies are partnering with gay
travel businesses. Orbitz (www.orbitz.com) now has a gay traveler
link, with airline and hotel specials. On a recent day, it posted a
“Where the boys are” special, an all-gay Barcelona-Italy-Ibiza
Atlantis cruise for $1,099.
AAA Travel of Northern California (www.csaa.com) recently
announced a new line of tours and cruise vacations for the lesbian
and gay community with Olivia Cruises and Resorts, a long-time
gay/lesbian travel provider; and Atlantis Events, a large-scale gay
and lesbian tour provider.
It’s all part of an initiative launched this year to market
product lines for lesbian, gay and bisexual travelers in Northern
California, Utah and Nevada.
“We are in a position to service clients who are looking for
either a gay-exclusive vacation or a more mainstream one,” says
Danielle Beshong, manager of diversified markets for AAA Travel of
In 1998, Roth’s Community Marketing launched the TAG Approved
Accommodations program (www.tagapproved.com), a listing of hotels
that met the non-discriminatory standards of gay travelers.
For instance, hotels listed provided sensitivity training for
staff, and, in many cases, allowed for equal benefits for the
partners of gay employees. In its first year, the site listed just
30 properties. It now lists more than 200.
Oakland-based Olivia (www.olivia.com), one of the best-known
providers for lesbian travelers, offered a lesbian/gay family
vacation package for Club Med at Port Saint Lucie this fall.
Olivia indicates that introducing family travel is a natural
evolution for its marketing pursuits, given that more than
one-quarter of U.S. lesbians and 6 percent of gay men are
“That’s a significant and growing number,” says Olivia CEO Amy
Errett, who, with her partner, has a 6-month-old daughter. “Our
vacations are about a high level of quality experience. We believe
that lesbian and gay parents deserve that level of quality and
exclusivity when they travel with their families.”