Op-ed: LGBT People Won't Visit Countries That Hate Them
By Jim Burba and Bob Hayes
The days of confused glances by the hotel desk clerk when we asked for one room/one bed are quickly receding into the past. Sure, we still get a confused look now and then when we check into a hotel, but the light is definitely shining on the booming business of gay travel, and hotel companies are courting the gay community like never before.
We see this in the support of LGBT organizations by hotel companies such as MGM, Starwood, Hilton, Hyatt, Harrah’s, W Hotels, Marriott, Caesars International and Meliã Hotels, to name a few. In Las Vegas alone, Harrah’s Paris Las Vegas, MGM Mirage’s Luxor and New York, New York hotels have specific web microsites specifically marketing to the LGBT customer. Kimpton Hotel’s gay focused micro-site proclaims “Here, you’re welcomed with open arms.” Kudos to them.
Hotel and travel ads featuring gay individuals, couples, and families are routinely found in The Advocate, Out, and many travel publications. In the "times are changing" category, one hotel in New York City advertises itself as “straight friendly.” The 105-room Out NYC (no relation to Out magazine) estimates that 70% of its guests are gay.
Gay Travel – Some Numbers
While gay travel has been economically important for years, it’s increasingly getting more attention from the tourism promotion arms of local, state, and national governments.
CNN reported in July 2012 that an economic impact survey conducted by the New York City Clerk’s Office and NYC & Company, the city’s tourism and marketing organization, showed nearly 236,000 booked hotel room nights were attributable to LGBT guests and marriage celebrants in the first year of legalized gay marriage in New York. At an estimated average rate of $275 per night, nearly $65 million in hotel revenue was realized.
Hotels don’t survey their guests on their sexuality, at least we haven’t heard of them doing so, but they are taking note of studies that show a large percentage of the LGBT community travels. A 2012 Global Tourism Report on LGBT Tourism published by the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) and the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association (IGLTA) shows that gay/bi men had taken an average of 3.9 trips in the past 12 months. With lesbian/bi women, that number was 3.3 trips.
Similar to all travelers, location and price are key factors when LGBT travelers select a hotel, but an “LBGT friendly” reputation is also an important motivator, according to the 17th Annual LGBT Travel Survey released in October 2012 by Community Marketing, Inc. The survey estimates that the economic impact of LGBT travel to be approximately $65 billion in the United States alone. Much of this revenue goes to hotel companies.
The CMI survey estimates that 79% of LGBTs in the United States hold a valid passport, which translates into a significant amount of potential international travel. This compares to about 39% of the U.S. population overall holding a passport, according to a January 2013 U.S. State Department report quoted on TheExpeditioner.com. LGBT friendly countries are making their pitch to grab these travelers.
The UNWTO IGLTA report includes a number of country testimonials on the importance of LGBT travel. Spain’s Turespaña’s Director General, Antonio Bernabé, estimates that up to 10% of the travel market is from the LGBT community. Many Spanish hotel groups are members of the IGLTA. Spain passed a law in 2005 that allows full marriage rights, and it is this law that brought about a positive change in the image of Spain as a LGBT travel destination.
Brazil’s Embratur (Ministry of Tourism) is implementing a promotional plan focusing on the upcoming 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games. The aim of this plan is to attract a share of Brazil’s potential nine million LGBT consumers identified by a survey conducted by Out Now Global. Nine million LGBT travelers will fill a LOT of hotel rooms and spend a LOT of money.
Gay Travel and Politics
In 2008, California’s Proposition 8, which revoked the right of gays and lesbians to marry (ed. note: and just became history), became an issue for hotel companies in the Golden State. The Mormon Church was reportedly a major stimulator of the funding to pass the Proposition. Because of this, Marriott International became unfairly guilty-by-association, and came under fire with a threat of a possible gay boycott of the company because of its Mormon connection. Bill Marriott, who is Mormon, promptly issued a statement separating himself and the company he headed, from any support of Proposition 8.
We personally became aware when anti-Proposition 8 activists realized our big, annual hotel investment conference was to be held in San Diego and would be featuring Mr. Marriott as a guest speaker. San Diego was already under intense scrutiny because one major hotel owner had made significant contributions to the pro-Prop. 8 cause. Protestors threatened to disrupt our conference, which did not occur once Mr. Marriott issued the statement clarifying the matter.
Are hotel owners and operators paying more attention to the politics of gay America now? You bet. And as more and more states pass legislation that allows gay marriage, and dollars from gay weddings, honeymoons, and family vacations fill the hotel coffers, hotel companies will increasingly court the gay traveler and his and her dollars.
Gay Travel and Global Investors
While the financial impact of gay travel has been long understood in niche markets, it’s certainly becoming better appreciated globally as countries, destinations, and hotels seek to grow their market share.
We conduct brainstorming meetings for each of the hotel investment conferences we host around the world. The attendees at these brainstorming meetings are leading owners, investors, hotel companies and their advisors in each region of the world. When they are asked where are some of the “big opportunities” for the hotel industry in locations like Europe, the US, the Caribbean, Latin America, Asia and even India — the same answer is given — LGBT travel. The owners and investors get it! That LGBT travel pot of gold is certainly up for grabs around the world. We’re not just in Kansas anymore!
JIM BURBA AND BOB HAYES have been partners in life and livelihood for more than 20 years. As co-founders of Burba Hotel Network, this couple has formed a power partnership that has become the worldwide leader in developing and producing conferences for the hotel and tourism investment community. Since 2000, their events have attracted nearly 80,000 international delegates in 22 countries.