Gay Tourism Spotlight: New Tourism Statistics and a Case Study

By Jeff Guaracino Vice President, Communications, Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corp | April 01, 2010

Just like after 9/11, gays and lesbians have not stopped traveling. Interestingly, this travel segment is so resilient that neither terrorism nor a financial crisis can stop them from traveling. So, what is motivating gay and lesbian travel in a year when all market segments are down?

First, gay and lesbian travelers have the means and wherewithal to travel. As a group, they have a favorable buying power as compared to other minority groups. (Buying power represents the amount of money after taxes and obligations on things such as home mortgages, rent, transportation expenses, food, entertainment and travel). In 2009, it is estimated that the buyer power of U.S. gays and lesbians is $800 billion. Additionally, they also tend to have fewer children in the household as compared to their heterosexual counterparts. Less than 20% of gay and lesbians report raising children (source: Community Marketing Inc.) Therefore, they are not confined by school schedules and have a greater discretion to spend money on travel.

Gays and lesbians also have an insatiable desire to explore this world in search of their interests, passions and places where they can meet other gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) people like themselves. They often set their travel schedule around gay and lesbian film festivals GLBT sporting competitions, like a gay rodeo or softball series. They also plan and budget for special travel experiences, such as traveling on charted cruise ships to Alaska, the Caribbean and Europe with thousands of other GLBT people who share their interests. The largest gay tour operators, Atlantis Vacations, r family vacations and RSVP Vacations, announce their tours more than one year in advance. And, now in a number of U.S. states and around the world, gays and lesbians can either marry or enter into a civil union giving yet another reason to travel now and opening a brand new marketing opportunity, the gay honeymoon trip.

Even in tough economic times, gay travelers are still willing to pay a premium, also known as the 'gay premium,' just to meet other gay travelers or for a customized travel experience. Consider this. This summer, cruise lines are selling cabins for a week in Alaska as little as $499 per person. Two of the largest tour operators catering to gay and lesbian travelers, r family vacations and RSVP Vacations, are selling cabins on NCL and Holland America for no less than $1,000 per person for the week. While these vacation companies are discounting, slightly, and seeing more people wait longer to book their vacation, they are still commanding top prices that are the envy of the travel industry. That is a gay premium.

"Make no mistake; gay households, like all others, are struggling. No demographic research suggests these consumers are wealthier or better prepared during this economic downturn. Yet-they still believe that new destinations, new trips and new opportunities matter-which is a hopeful sign for all travel leaders," said Bob Witeck, principal of Witeck Combs Communications.

"GLBT households again confirm that travel remains a comparatively strong priority even within shrinking household budgets," Witeck said.

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