Suppliers Tap the LGBT Market
by Judy Jacobs /

This is the last of three parts.

No longer is LGBT travel confined to so-called gay-friendly destinations or to gay specialty suppliers.

From Hyatt and Hilton to Door County, Wisc., and Atlantic City, N.J., more and more mainstream hotels and destinations are getting involved with LGBT travel.

Not only is the niche profitable, but by embracing it companies can show that they celebrate diversity. Here are developments in two key segments – destinations and lodging.

Destinations reach out
Las Vegas, which has been marketing to the LGBT segment for about five years, has created the first-ever television ad directed at the market.

Launched April 7 and slated to run through 2014, it’s part of the city’s famous “What Happens Here, Stays Here” campaign. Known as “The Check In,” the ad takes a playful approach to Las Vegas’ welcoming ambiance.

Atlantic City has integrated a LGBT-friendly message into its “Do Anything, Do Everything, Do AC” campaign that runs regionally from New York to Maryland. The city is also seeing its LGBT market expanding in new directions.

Getting more aggressive
“We get gay and lesbian travelers who come here for the same reason that other travelers come: the gaming, the shopping and the luxury hotels,” said Jeff Guaracino, chief communications and strategy officer of Atlantic City Alliance, a nonprofit dedicated to broaden the destination’s appeal beyond just gaming.

“We’re also getting more interest in particular LGBT events and they are important drivers for Atlantic City,” said Guaracino.  

With New Jersey’s legalization of sex-marriage, some Atlantic City hotels are promoting more aggressively to gay couples. Earlier this year Caesars Entertainment ran a contest giving away a $50,000 wedding to a same-sex couple.

Not just for big destinations
Smaller destinations such as Wisconsin’s Door County are reaching out as well.

A popular regional vacation destination on Lake Michigan, Door County has been doing sold-out coop advertising in the Wisconsin Gazette, a LGBT publication, for four years.

The outreach has attracted LGBT visitors from a six-hour radius in Wisconsin and bordering states, according to Michelle Rasmusson, director of marketing and sales for the Door county Visitors Bureau.

“It wasn't so much as a 'going after' per se as it was about shining a light bulb on Door County to show the LGBT market we are a great option for travel,” she said.

“We don't have businesses that are specifically ‘gay,’ so although we do have singles that come up, we are a better fit for couples and families that just want an all-around great vacation without the label,” said Rasmussen.

Hotels show pride
Several major hotel chains are getting involved in the LGBT market in ways that would have been unimaginable even a decade ago.

Hilton has created the “Stay Hilton Go Out” campaign to reach the LGBT market. It devotes a section of its website to LGBT travelers with a special Stay Hilton Go Out package, an LGBT travel newsletter, a calendar of major LGBT events around the world, and a Pride Fest map showing where many of them take place.

As marriage equality becomes legal in more and more states across the country Hilton is creating wedding packages at properties in those states.

Marriott is another company marketing to the LGBT audience. Its “Be You With Us” campaign includes a special section of the company’s website promoting its wedding packages and a calendar of Pride events around the nation with packages to go along with them.

Behind the scenes
While Hilton and Marriott are making their involvement in the LGBT market widely known, Hyatt Hotels is working behind the scenes.

“As a practice, we don’t do advertising for LGBT,” said Todd Tomlin, co-director Hyatt’s HyPride program.

“We’re primarily doing grassroots marketing in our local markets,” said Tomlin. “We sponsor the ILGTA (International Lesbian & Gay Travel Association) and through them we’re offered a number of opportunities to promote our hotels.”

HyPride was formed two years ago as a group for LGBT employees and now has chapters across the U.S. and one in formation in Europe.

Although HyPride is mainly an employee group, “We’re now evolving more into a business network and affecting change within the company to drive more marketing dollars and marketing visibility to the LGBT market,” Tomlin said.

“At the beginning of 2015 we’ll put the things that we’re planning this year into practice. We plan to have a much more public campaign and outreach next year,” he added.

Related stories
Understanding LGBT Travelers: Insights Into a Hot Market Segment
Gay and Lesbian Travel: Agents Speak Out

We get gay and lesbian travelers who come here for the same reason that other travelers come: the gaming, the shopping and the luxury hotels.
 
Jeff Guaracino, Atlantic City Alliance