One of the key concepts in creating a new LGBT tour operator, Brand g Vacations, was to organize escorted group tours to destinations where gays and lesbians have full equality, including marriage. Our goal was to reward Mexico City, Canada, Argentina, Spain, New York State, etc, with our business. But in fact does this matter to our guests? Are gays really more “brand-loyal,” as we say? This seems to be commonly accepted by corporate America, especially in the travel industry. When I recently challenged this at the Travel Gay Canada annual conference in Montreal – you could hear a pin drop. It was if I had just said that Wayne Gretzky was not a good hockey player. When someone finally asked me how dare I say such a thing and what evidence did I have, I said I had none except for my own gut feelings, and here is what they are. First of all let’s be clear, I have not said that gays are less likely to be brand-loyal – I am saying that we are just like everyone else: some of us are very brand-loyal, some of us are “kind-of brand-loyal,” and the vast majority of us don’t even know what we are talking about here. Let me give you a few examples, and then please let me know your thoughts.
When you need gas – where do you go to fill the car, and what kind of car do you drive? There is one oil company that scores zero on the HRC Corporate Equality Index (CEI), can you name it without looking? Do you avoid them and fill up somewhere else at least 90% of the time? Are you willing to drive a little extra to go to Chevron – which scores 100%? And that car – several companies are at 100% and a few under 50%. Did you really look at this when you put down that $30,000?
Fifteen years ago when I was President of RSVP Vacations, a very nice man called me from Houston. He was planning to start a gay airline and he wanted my opinion as to how to help market it. By the time the call was over he was pretty much convinced that it would not work. My questions were simple – where are you going to fly, how often, and how much will it cost? When he told me I asked him, “So if Sue needs to go to Los Angeles on Tuesday afternoon, and you only fly on Mondays and Thursdays, is she going to tell her employer that she can’t? Or if Sue is really traveling on Monday and your flight is $500 and Southwest Airlines (95% on the CEI) is $49, can she justify the additional $401 to her corporate travel manager? In the Twin Cities, Delta Airlines controls 85% of the flights. With few exceptions, if I want to go non-stop, I need to fly Delta. Now I am lucky because Delta scores 100% and offers me great service, but if they were only at 50%, would I be willing to connect on American, the long-time marketing leader to the gay community? Honestly, probably not.
So am I wrong, are we more brand-loyal? What helps you make your decision what to buy, and as importantly what not to buy? Please let us know – because as we move forward at Brand g Vacations, trying to support those that support us – if you could give a damn about full equality in Montreal or Mexico City, then we need to know it.