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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Architecture & Design: Expecting the Unexpected

There are more than 700,000 hotels and resorts worldwide and the hotel industry is continually looking for new ways to differentiate its properties. In some cases, hotels themselves have become travel destinations and guests have come to expect the unexpected - to experience the touches that make the property unlike any other place in the world. To achieve this, architects and designers are adopting a variety of strategies to meet the needs of every type of guest and to provide incomparable customer experiences. One such strategy is site-integration - the effort to skillfully marry a hotel to its immediate surroundings. The goal is to honor the cultural location of the property, and to integrate that into the hotel's design - both inside and out. Constructing low-impact structures that blend in with the environment and incorporating local natural elements into the design are essential to this endeavor. Similarly, there is an ongoing effort to blur the lines between interior and exterior spaces - to pull the outside in - to enable guests to connect with nature and enjoy beautiful, harmonious surroundings at all times. Another design trend is personalization - taking the opportunity to make every space within the hotel original and unique. The days of matching decor and furniture in every room are gone; instead, designers are utilizing unexpected textures, mix-and-match furniture, diverse wall treatments and tiles - all to create a more personalized and fresh experience for the guest. Finally, lobbies are continuing to evolve. They are being transformed from cold, impersonal, business-like spaces into warm, inviting, living room-like spaces, meant to provide comfort and to encourage social interaction. These are a few of the current trends in the fields of hotel architecture and design that will be examined in the November issue of the Hotel Business Review.