Companies see sales boost from gay travel, same-sex honeymoons

BY admin

April 10 2004 12:00 AM ET

Companies that rent limousines, photograph weddings, and help people plan their honeymoons have a new, potentially lucrative market: gay couples. At Gayweddings.com, an advertising portal for wedding resources and vacation getaways, the number of advertisers has increased fourfold since a November court ruling in Massachusetts that will allow same-sex couples to marry in mid May.

"It's been a big boom," said K.C. David, president of the Web site, which has been online since 2000. Gay couples and their family and friends have been flying to Portland, Ore., where marriage certificates for same-sex couples are being issued. The influx has provided an economic boom to the area's hotels and wedding retailers, said Joe D'Alessandro, president of the Portland Visitors Association. "As this continues, people are planning receptions and much more formal weddings," he said. "As it matures, it becomes an even greater economic boost." Even in states where same-sex couples cannot marry, but do hold commitment ceremonies, businesses are marketing to gays.

"Companies are now for the first time seeing that there is money to be made by targeting gays and lesbians," said Eileen O'Connor, an organizer with the Same Sex Wedding Expo held in New York last month. "Couples are combining their lives and their incomes, and if companies are smart, they're going to target them."

For travel-related companies that cater to gay couples, honeymoons are a natural expansion of the business they're already seeking, and getting, from gay tourists. Gay travelers spend an estimated $54 billion a year in the United States, according to an analysis by Community Marketing Inc., which tracks gay tourism. The estimate, which the company calls conservative, was based on national population figures, the travel industry as a whole, and an annual survey of 3,000 gay travelers.

Thomas Roth, president of Community Marketing, said gay travelers are a profitable market segment for cities and resorts and other travel destinations because they tend to earn high salaries, have a lot of disposable income--many don't have children--and like to travel. "When I started this in 1992, there were zero companies interested in gay travel," said Roth, who noted that cities worldwide are now trying to attract gay tourists from the United States.

"It's definitely a market that has a lot of potential for us," said Keith Toler, executive director of the Bucks County tourism bureau, who hopes commitment ceremonies will draw gay travelers. The Bucks County Conference and Visitors Bureau in suburban Philadelphia had a booth at the Same Sex Wedding Expo to advertise the county's bed-and-breakfasts. The county also has a dedicated Web site for gays:
www.gaybuckscounty.com.

Jeff Guaracino, a marketing director for the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corp., said regional tourism bureaus and national companies like Delta Air Lines and Avis were discussing how they might profit from same-sex marriage at the fifth annual International Conference on Gay and Lesbian Tourism held last month in West Hollywood, Calif. The seminar was hosted by Community Marketing. Guaracino said gay tourism was in its infancy stage and called gay honeymoons "a niche within a niche." He said, "Destinations are wrestling with this new market and new opportunity."

Attracting gay honeymooners comes even as destinations are increasing their marketing to gay travelers in general. Philadelphia, which launched a campaign last fall using the slogan "Get your history straight, and your nightlife gay," is now producing a commercial for gays, believed to be the first ever by a city. The commercial--combined with an increase in print ads targeting gays the last several years--shows that acceptance of gays has reached "critical mass," said Mike Wilke, executive director of the Commercial Closet Association, a group that tracks gay representation in ads.

For some companies, though, it's not a new idea. Avis has been courting gay travelers for years, said spokesman Ted Deutsch. "We see the gay and lesbian market as significant in size and very brand loyal," he said. "And we believe in serving as many customers as possible."

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