Some gays and lesbians less susceptible to economic crisis
Friday, February 20, 2009
Few are living as grandly as they were before last year’s catastrophic stock market crash but even in the throes of the worst recession since the Great Depression, gays and lesbians are still traveling and may be a smidge less likely to be adversely affected by the dismal Dow.
“Gay people are not richer than straight people, but their spending behaviors are different,” says Bob Witeck, founder and CEO of Witeck-Combs Communications, a Washington-based marketing and consulting firm.
Witeck, a self-confessed “big, ole’ gay boy,” points to data that shows only one out of four U.S. gay men or lesbians live in households with children under the age of 18.
“Gay households are often two-income households, they have fewer kids and they’re not saving for college,” he says.
So they continue to travel.
Last May, Witeck-Combs and Harris Interactive conducted a national online survey and found that despite the sluggish economic conditions, 38 percent of gay and lesbian adults in the U.S. planned to vacation as planned compared to 34 percent of straights.
“These findings help confirm what market research has been telling us for several years,” Witeck says. “America’s GLBT market represents a resilient and distinct growth opportunity for tourism professionals … U.S. GLBT consumers are in no way exempt from the downturn, but several factors — such as higher-than-average per capita buying power — are keeping them on the road and in the air for vacation.”
And where are they going?
Many of the same places they always have.
In both the U.S. and abroad, the places gays and lesbians visit most often don’t vary a lot from year to year. New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Chicago, Las Vegas and Washington are consistently the biggest gay magnets stateside. Internationally, London, Buenos Aires, Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Rio de Janeiro and Paris are most popular.
“Even in a bad economy, gays still travel,” says John Tanzella, who’s gay and the executive director of the International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association, a 26-year-old global organization that connects businesses in the gay tourism industry.
About 16 million U.S. adults, or 6.8 percent of the country’s population, self identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, according to Witeck-Combs/Harris. They wield an estimated $712 billion in buying power and spend about $70 billion of it, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, on tourism, or about 5 percent of the U.S. total.
Travel trends sometimes take unexpected turns. Provincetown, Mass., and Key West, Fla., long-standing gay destinations, are now finding their popularity spilling over onto the radars of straight travelers.
“It’s kind of similar to what we’re seeing in Dupont Circle,” Tanzella, a former Washingtonian who now lives in Fort Lauderdale, says. “It’s become a more diverse neighborhood. It’s no longer all gay.”
Other off-the-beaten-path destinations are purposefully reaching out to gays. Dallas has been perhaps the most overt.
About five years ago, the Dallas Convention and Visitor’s Bureau “recognized the need for diversity marketing,” according to Armando Gonzalez, a gay Dallas resident who works at SRJ Marketing Communications, a PR agency that worked with the bureau to target gay travelers. Dallas also targeted black, Hispanic and Asian travelers.
Gonzalez rattles off a bounty of surprising Dallas factoids: it has the largest continuous urban arts district that spans 19 blocks, it has a strip of 10 gay bars/nightclubs within walking distance that one-ups similar concentrations in most other U.S. cities, it has the most diverse shopping options in the southwest U.S. and more restaurants per capita than any other U.S. city.
Budding entrepreneurs are taking notice. Again, despite the tanking economy, new gay vacation businesses continue to spring up.
Savvy Navigator’s vision is to provide authentic trips that extend beyond run-of-the-mill tourist stops in South Africa.
“It’s the style of travel my partner and I do where we become somewhat embedded in the places we visit,” says Jeff Ward, who’s gay and founded Savvy Navigator last year. “We want people to experience what’s going on behind the scenes, not just check off a lot of different sites on a list and then blast back out.”
The idea came from a 2007 trip Ward and his partner, Michael Klein, took for Klein’s 40th birthday. They flew with 24 friends and family members to Cape Town, South Africa, and, as Ward puts it, “had a really, really wonderful trip.”
All Savvy Navigator trips hit spots Ward has visited. He cites one must-visit spot — a gay-run farm on the country’s Western Cape — as particularly emblematic of what Savvy offers.
“It’s like a scene in ‘Out of Africa,’” Ward says. “No other tour operator would get you there. These are completely unique trips.”
For now, Ward is focusing on gay men and South Africa, but plans to expand his business’s reach to Argentina and Australia soon. He also plans lesbian-tailored trips down the road. Trips run about $7,000 for 12-day treks, though a May South Africa trip (all-inclusive) is priced just under $6,000. Visit www.savvynavigator.com for more information.
Sweet, a new lesbian travel company, has finalized an agreement with Norwegian Cruise Line for a November trip on the 1,972-passenger Norwegian Spirit, which will depart from New Orleans and visit Mexico, Belize and Honduras. Sweet, like Savvy, was founded last year and bills itself as offering “fun-filled, eco-friendly, volunteer-oriented and empowering lesbian travel experiences.”
“A Sweet vacation is intended to motivate guests to achieve their personal professional and philanthropic goals,” its literature states.
Sweet CEO Shannon Wentworth was traveling in Barbados this week and not available for an interview, but did e-mail a comment.
She says everyone is being financially cautious, but gays and lesbians are more economically resilient.
“We tend to focus on our careers in our 20s and 30s, which leaves us in more solid position when layoffs happen,” she says in an e-mail. “And gay and lesbian consumers value travel higher than their non-gay counterparts, meaning they plan and save for vacations well in advance. Gays and lesbians relish leisure time. I think you’ll see a lot of other sectors dip among gays and lesbians before you see travel take a significant hit.”
Sweet, based in San Francisco, is offering its November cruise at prices ranging from about $1,100 to $4,500. Visit www.discoversweet.com for more information about this and other Sweet trips.
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