GLOBAL REPORT—Cultivating the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender traveler can be challenging. A key question is whether hotel brands should target the LGBT market separately from others.
Executives at Marriott International believe separate works. It recently refreshed its website for the LGBT traveler because its research shows that community “embraces companies that openly and progressively market to (it),” said Randy Griffin, VP of global sales for Marriott.
Marriott partners with the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce; the International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association; the National Center for Lesbian Rights; and Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians and Gays, placing their logos on its site. By providing such links, Griffin said, these groups “have in return marketed us to their membership bases.”
The Bethesda, Maryland-based company’s efforts have not gone unnoticed. Marriott scored a 90% on the Human Rights Campaign’s 2012 Corporate Equality Index, which measures sensitivity to LGBT needs.
Randy Griffin, VP of global sales for Marriott
Travelers booking through Marriott’s LGBT site, launched in 2009 and refreshed in January, get the best available rate, he said, adding this market will only grow as more states pass same-sex marriage legislation. The White House no longer supports the Defense of Marriage Act, and “after this presidential election, our officials will have to focus on the economy and these issues will take care of themselves,” he said.
Citing the U.S. Department of Commerce, travel and tourism in the U.S. generated more than $1.3 trillion during 2010, according to the 16th Annual Gay & Lesbian Tourism Report issued by Community Marketing. Based on CMI’s own poll of self-identified gay and lesbian travelers, conducted from 20 September to 31 October 2011, the “annual economic impact of LGBT travelers is over $65 billion in the U.S. alone.”
Casting a wide net
Marriott’s specificity distinguishes it from other major brands, both domestic and foreign, and even from boutique, smaller flags such as Kimpton Hotel & Restaurant Group LLC and Joie de Vivre that have always been gay-friendly.
To Griffin, however, a special pitch makes sense. During a telephone interview in early March, he said Marriott’s updated site, which shows gay photos and features LGBT-oriented specials at its hotels, like PFLAG’s Straight For Equality Awards Gala, set for 2 April at the Marriott Marquis Times Square.
Marriott’s site aims to cast as wide a net as possible, Griffin said. LGBT couples with children need family travel, while events such as the International Gay Games cater to the gay sports fan and athlete. Regardless of the niche, the best way to reach this segment is through social media, he said.
As for housing guests of different lifestyles under the same roof, Griffin said it’s of little concern.
“I think we have greater challenges when we put in a business group with a sports group,” as opposed “to bringing in a multicultural customer with a conservative customer,” he added. “If you put in a rock band with the CEO of IBM, you’d have challenges.”
Griffin noted that as a publicly traded company, Marriott does not provide financial support to politicians or political causes. He added Marriott family members who choose to provide such support “is a separate issue” and a private matter.
Sometimes, the line between public and private can be crooked. Republican Presidential candidate Willard “Mitt” Romney was named after company founder J. Willard Marriott and served on the Marriott board between presidential campaigns.
Spokesmen for various other brands welcome LGBT customers but struggle with differentiating them in their marketing. In an email from London, Craig Markham, director of marketing and public relations for Firmdale Hotels, a boutique brand with six hotels in England and one in Manhattan, wrestled with the issue:
“We attract a lot of L+G clients at all of our hotels but we do not do any proactive sales or marketing to achieve this ... Perhaps it’s a style thing, but what all guests will get at any of our properties is an experience that is not intimidating or prejudiced in any way. We do some editorial with gay publications but nothing more than others and we don’t actively target them. We don’t do any wholesale marketing to L+G wholesalers or packages either but we rarely do this type of sales promotion anyway. We do lots of L+G civil partnership ceremonies at the hotels in London and look forward to do doing more and more in New York.”
Maria Umbert, Markham’s counterpart at Meliá Hotels International in Palma de Mallorca, Spain, said Meliá wants to attract the LGBT market, but “we have realized that some of the LGBT clients prefer not to be dealt with as members of a differentiated niche.”
Meliá’s ME brand is focused on segments such as LGBT, she said by e-mail, “because it is an absolutely lifestyle-oriented brand. (ME hotels) are more innovative and include sexy kits (sensual kits) in the so-called ‘maxi bars’ in every room, etc., and also romantic packages, on demand.”
Meanwhile, Hilton Worldwide aims to go after the LGBT market soon.
“Internally, we are launching our first-ever LGBT resource group,” Jon Muñoz, senior director of global diversity and inclusion for Hilton, said in a statement. Hilton will build on partnerships with NGLCC, NGLTF, “Out & Equal Workplace Advocates, and the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association to further expand on our mission to be the preeminent global hospitality company.”
Wyndham Worldwide Corporation won’t single out the LGBT market but suggests its lifestyle-oriented brands, Dream and Night, play well to it:
“These products target a very different consumer from the rest of our portfolio and we believe will play a key role in helping us expand the number and type of guests that our hotels and brands are able to cater to, including the LGBT community,” Rosanne Zusman, Wyndham Hotel Group senior VP of brand marketing, said in a prepared statement.
Peter Gamez is an old hand at such marketing. The long-time VP of sales and business and development at San Francisco-based Joie de Vivre Hotels said even though JdV always has catered to gays, emphasis varies by market size.
“If you’re in a secondary market or a tertiary market, it’s not something I even put into our business plan as a segment to pursue,” he said.
Partnerships, branding and sponsorships are key, he added, noting JdV uses social media to offer percentages off best available rate to travelers booking a room in connection with an event such as San Francisco Pride on 23-24 June. “We also have a program called Give Back, which if you book a meeting or space for a non-profit California LGBT organization, we return 10% of the rate as a donation.
“As a guest, if you’re in the LGBT community and you see this hotel company is giving back, it becomes part of the fabric of the community.”
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