Gay Marketing: Case Example - Reaching the Gay & Lesbian Travel Market

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

Hotels are facing ever increasing competition and challenges, and must continually identify new ways to grow market share. For the past few months I've told you about the opportunities that lie with targeting the gay and lesbian travel market, and how to be successful in your efforts. I'm sure you've been thinking how interesting it all was, but wondering if it works. So this issue I've decided to let you see first hand the process, experiences, and results a small luxury, three property hotel company went through to reach the gay and lesbian travel market.

In 1997, three landmark hotels in the small historic town of Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario joined to create Vintage Inns. Now known as Vintage Hotels, it is a collection of three CAA/AAA four-diamond hotels offering a total of 374 guest rooms, over 30,000 square feet of meeting space, three four-diamond restaurants, and two spas. Over the past nine years, Vintage Hotels has grown to offer some of the most spectacular hotel properties in Ontario, and has helped the Niagara region become a top tourist destination.

In 2005, Vintage Hotels decided to look at targeting the gay and lesbian travel market. After extensive research and discussions with organizations like the Canadian Tourism Commission and other industry resources, they soon realized that this market was worth reaching out to. According to Colin Sines, Director of Marketing for Vintage Hotels, "it is a market that has discretionary income, that takes more than one trip per year, has estimated spending power of $540 billion, is an affluent and loyal affinity group, and that 84% of gay and lesbian travelers hold valid passports (compared to the national average of 29%)." But even more importantly than the fact that it is an attractive market, it is a natural fit for Vintage Hotels. From their market research, Vintage Hotels knew that their properties were what the gay and lesbian traveller demanded. As a result, in November of 2005, Vintage Hotels began to actively campaign to reach the gay and lesbian traveller.

In their efforts over the past year, Vintage Hotels has realized the importance of planning and approaching this new market strategically. Vintage Hotels has demonstrated this in the products they serve and the activities done to reach the market.

Product, Packaging, and Partnerships

Vintage Hotels understood the importance of having gay and lesbian specific product available for this market. Through their research, they knew what the market demanded, and saw opportunity. Vintage Hotels was able to use their existing services to create product specific for the gay and lesbian travel market. They leveraged their recently renovated 13,000-square-foot spa (with a wide selection of services to "soothe body and soul") to offer spa packages targeted to gay and lesbian visitors.

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Guest Service: A Culture of YES

In a recent global consumers report, 97% of the participants said that customer service is a major factor in their loyalty to a brand, and 76% said they view customer service as the true test of how much a company values them. And since there is no industry more reliant on customer satisfaction than the hotel industry, managers must be unrelenting in their determination to hire, train and empower the very best people, and to create a culture of exceptional customer service within their organization. Of course, this begins with hiring the right people. There are people who are naturally service-oriented; people who are warm, empathetic, enthusiastic, pleasant, thoughtful and optimistic; people who take pride in their ability to solve problems for the hotel guests they are serving. Then, those same employees must be empowered to solve problems using their own judgment, without having to track down a manager to do it. This is how seamless problem solving and conflict resolution are achieved in guest service. This willingness to empower employees is part of creating a Culture of Yes within an organization.  The goal is to create an environment in which everyone is striving to say “Yes”, rather than figuring out ways to say, “No”. It is essential that this attitude be instilled in all frontline, customer-facing, employees. Finally, in order to ensure that the hotel can generate a consistent level of performance across a wide variety of situations, management must also put in place well-defined systems and standards, and then educate their employees about them. Every employee must be aware of and responsible for every standard that applies in their department. The April issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some leading hotels are doing to cultivate and manage guest satisfaction in their operations.