Tom Roth, president of Community Marketing Inc., gave those at the gay travel symposium in Bern insights from the company's research, focusing on Switzerland.
In 2005 Roth's gay tourism market research company analysed more than 24,000 responses from a survey of gay and lesbian consumers in the United States and Britain.
"Gays are resilient travellers," he said. "In 2001/2 when the world was gripped by terrorist attacks and Sars [the pneumonia virus], everybody put the brakes on travel – except for one community: the gay and lesbian community."
Roth added that 84 per cent of US respondents held a valid passport, compared with a "shocking and depressing" national average of 23 per cent.
Based on national population figures, American gays and lesbians represent a $65 billion (SFr83 billion) travel market, extrapolated as a "very conservative" five per cent of the annual $1.3 trillion American travel industry, as stated by the Travel Industry Association of America.
The median household income of US respondents was $87,500 – a 2000 US census reported a median $42,000 household income.
Roth's analysis shows gays are big on short holidays (under four days) and on impulsive getaways – figures are almost double those of the mainstream market.
"Circuit [touring] holidays and the big gay group experience – what you usually see advertised and promoted – are a relatively small segment of what gay and lesbian tourism is all about," he said. "Independent, self-organised trips is what it's about."
Roth said that, by day, gay travellers to Switzerland are looking for all the beautiful and historic experiences that everyone comes to Switzerland for; by night, however, they want to be gay.
"Deep inside we also want to meet other gay and lesbian people. Switzerland, especially with partners, has a great opportunity to expand that."
He quoted the tagline of a successful gay campaign by Philadelphia tourism: "Get your history straight and your nightlife gay".
The main motivators for European travel are gay friendliness – 98 per cent of respondents said a destination's gay-friendly reputation influenced their decision to visit – and the opportunity to explore new places. And this, according to Roth, is really where Switzerland has a tremendous opportunity.
He noted that gay travel to England and France – which was very strong in the late Nineties and early 2000 because of all their promotion to the gay community – has started to taper off because gay travellers have been there and got the T-shirt.
As for travel times, Roth said gays tend to travel during spring and autumn and much less so during summer and winter. "When we ask gay focus groups why, they say: 'Because we can'. They don't want to have to queue up round the block to get into museums when they can just walk right in."
This flexibility – no children tied to school holidays – also results in off-season flight and hotel bargains. Hoteliers are also happy to fill empty beds in traditionally quiet periods.
But Roth admits there are challenges. The problem with advertising to the gay and lesbian market is that not all gays are buff clubbers looking for "the scene".
"I like to say that there is no gay market, there is no lesbian market – there are many gay markets. By that I mean the wide range of interests – some want to go bungee-jumping, others just want to sit outside in a café."
This, he said, is the challenge of advertising. "It's really hard for any destination, product or service to nail the gay and lesbian community in one ad because anyone who looks at the ad and doesn't identify with the picture says 'that's not me'."
"They want to see gay and lesbian people in the adverts, but then what kind of people do you use?"
The solution, he says, is to use diverse advertising to reflect the diverse audience.
swissinfo, Thomas Stephens
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