How gays are saving the travel industry

While many people are scaling back their spending on travel and leisure activities during the recession, a recent study shows that GLBT people aren't skimping when it comes to vacation.

A national survey conducted online by Witeck Combs Communications and Harris Interactive shows that GLBT respondents expect to spend more on travel than heterosexual respondents.

GLBT respondents consistently said that on average, they are likely to spend about $2,300 between May and August for all travel, business and leisure, while heterosexuals on average report they are likely to spend roughly $1,500 during that same period, according to the survey.

Allison Powell, research director for Harris Interactive’s Travel and Tourism Research Group, said the results are not surprising.

“Harris Interactive frequently conducts travel related survey research projects, including those focused on the GLBT marketplace," Powell said. "This is not the first time that we have unearthed consistent and significant differences between GLBT and heterosexual travelers.”

While most households share the same financial stresses, gay households, such as Doug Hysell's, continue to make travel a high priority and cut back less on their spending for travel and hospitality.

Already this year, Hysell, of Nashville, has visited New Orleans and made several weekend trips to Atlanta. He recently returned from Acapulco, Mexico, where he enjoyed a week-long stay at Casa Condesa, a private, gay bed-and-breakfast where he enjoyed gourmet meals on a balcony overlooking the Acapulco Bay.

He said he hasn’t scaled back on his travels despite the poor economic condition.

“I’m in the mortgage business, so business has been through the roof with refinances,” Hysell said. “But, had business not been good, I still would have traveled inside the country to Chicago or Las Vegas.”

Hysell said now is a great time to travel because international airfares are at bargain basement prices in some instances. His recent flight to Mexico cost him only around $350 this year. That same flight cost him upwards of $700 when he first flew to Acapulco 13 years ago, he said

By taking advantage of such deals, GLBT travelers are providing hope to the travel industry according to Bob Witeck, CEO of Witeck-Combs Communications.

“Make no mistake; gay households, like all others, are struggling,” Witeck said. “ No demographic research suggests these consumers are wealthier or better prepared during this economic downturn.  Yet – they still believe that new destinations, new trips and new opportunities matter – which is a hopeful sign for all travel leaders.”

George Carrancho, American Airlines’ marketing manager responsible for outreach to GLBT consumers, and a member of the board of the International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association, said the travel industry has learned to target the GLBT market in tough times.

 “All travel marketers today are working harder than ever in this tough economy," Carrancho said. “From my experience, however, the very smartest ones also express their welcome and reputation for inclusion to gay and lesbian travelers, who are among our most consistent, loyal and profitable customers.”

Hysell, who budgets five to six percent for travel each year, is evidence of that claim. 

"Getting away for short periods is important in today's busy world, even if it's just a weekend drive three or four hours away," Hysell said.

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