Local Hotel Operators Are Optimistic
Although 2009 saw a decline in LGBT travel, tourism professionals have concluded that same sex couples still travelled and spent more money than their straight counterparts.
Bob Witeck of Witeck-Combs Communications tells SFGN that last year was rough for the entire travel and hospitality industry, including those businesses that especially welcome LGBT customers and families.
Witeck said “The good news, even in the middle of this downturn, was the consistent propensity for gay people to continue to travel – though cutting back on some of their costs. While everyone was cutting back, LGBT consumers cut back a bit less”.
Richard Gray, Owner of Richard Gray Consulting, a marketing firm catering to LGBT travel, also reported a 5% decrease in visitors to Fort Lauderdale. He indicated that average daily room rates were down about 17% and bed tax collections for Broward County were down about 20%.
Stated Gray: “The LGBT market mirrors the mainstream market. Visitors are still coming, but they are most certainly spend- ing less money.”
Witeck feels 2010 should see travel begin to pick up again “for all destinations, including ones most popular with LGBT travelers.” He thinks it is “likely in this economy that more consumers will still favor domestic over international spots, and still favor some of the top places in the U.S”, which includes Fort Lauderdale/Miami, Provincetown, New York, San Francisco, Hawaii and southern California among others.
Growing in popularity are cities like Washington DC, which will make marriage equality a reality in early March 2010, as well as Iowa, which has now become the Midwest’s poster child for marriage equality. Both destinations now offer wedding ceremonies and honeymoon options for same-sex couples.
Overseas, London and other European capitals still beckon travelers especially from the East coast. The Winter Olympics in Vancouver may also boost west coast tourism too, experts have said.
Gray states that “Most LGBT visitors to Greater Fort Lauderdale live on the East coast, but many arrive from California as well. We also see a large Canadian, English and German population.” While the beachside resorts have always been popular, so to now are Wilton Manors locales.
Ed Lugo, Owner of Ed Lugo Resort in Wilton Manors said his resort has experienced an increase in LGBT travelers this month and was up 25% in 2009. He attributes his success to Internet advertising and for providing visitors with “an experience they can- not receive at a larger resort.”
The Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau, which dedicated 10% of its overall advertising budget to the LGBT community, noted that their overall market- ing budget this year has been slashed 20%, due to the economic downturn.
Still, Steve Zunt, Senior Sales Manager of the Courtyard by Marriot on the Fort Lauderdale Beach notes there has been “a steady increase in LGBT travel to his hotel.” In 2009 the venue was the host hotel for the Hurricane Showdown, an annual Thanksgiving softball tournament run by the South Florida Amateur Athletic Association (SFAAA), a gay and lesbian softball league.
Zunt did note that almost all venues have initiated “promotions and special discounts for all our wallets and budgets. We have seen every destination and hospitality leader cut prices across the board to fill rooms and seats to sustain their businesses.”