Overt Marketing of Sexual Orientation: Going too far?

By Darrell Schuurman Co-Founder, Canadian Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce | October 28, 2008

I need to first acknowledge that this article was inspired from an email I received in response to one of my previous articles. The author of that email, let's call him Mr. Smith, was very upfront and critical of some of my suggestions on how hotels can attract the gay and lesbian market. He was blunt, but I appreciated his comments (perhaps I was impressed that people actually read my articles). Not only did it give me a title for this article, but it made me really take a step back and validate everything that I've been promoting.

I decided, as I was responding to his letter, that I should actually share my comments with all of you. If Mr. Smith had these strong concerns, others must as well. I've incorporated bits of his email into this article, which by the end will hopefully give you a better sense of whether or not marketing to the gay and lesbian consumer has truly "gone too far".

Smith questioned the need for hotels to reach out to the gay and lesbian market: "I have never experienced a hotel who gave a darn about my sexual preference, and isn't that the way is should be?" He's right, that's the way it should be, but we're not there yet. I bet most "straight" people out there have never experienced a hotel that cared about their sexual orientation, but I can tell you personally that there are still hotels that do seem to care when the sexual orientation is gay or lesbian. So because of that, there is still an opportunity for accommodations to successfully target the gay and lesbian market.

Sure, gay people will travel to destinations and will stay at hotels that don't market specifically to them, but research has shown that they prefer to go to destinations and stay at places that are committed to them and target them specifically. A recent survey conducted by Harris Interactive showed that nearly half of all gay and lesbians say a destination's gay friendliness is important when making travel decisions.

Is this all to say that gay travelers will forgo quality, price and service for a hotel that markets to them? Not at all. These are all just equally important. No different from the mainstream traveler. But what I'm getting at is more than just the basics. It's speaking directly to the market and ensuring they feel comfortable and safe as any other guest. And just like the mainstream traveler, they want to feel welcomed. This is what reaching out to the gay and lesbian traveler is all about: making them feel welcome.

We would all love the day when we would not have to worry about walking into the hotel in mid-west USA or Canada hand-in-hand with our partners, or not having the front desk agent blink twice when asking for a king bed instead of two beds. But like I said, Canada and the US aren't there yet. Sure, there are some gays out there that wouldn't be fazed by that (perhaps the friends that Mr. Smith talks about), but in my experience this is not true for a large percentage of gay travelers. I can actually say that from experience this past fall, after spending the week in San Francisco (attending an international gay and lesbian travel conference), my partner and I took a few extra days to explore the west coast. I can tell you that in one town where we stopped for the evening, I felt a little awkward and VERY aware of the reaction by the hotel staff when we asked for a king bed. Now if there was a hotel that had actively marketed to the gay traveler in that town, I certainly would have stayed there.

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