MARKETING

Why a Good Wedding Still Makes Marriott Cry

Marriott is aggressively tackling the LGBT market just in time for wedding season, maybe now's the time to revamp your own marketing plan?
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Getting married? Mazel Tov! Marriott has such a deal for you, especially if you're part of the LGBT community.

The hotel chain announced a social media campaign just in time for Gay Pride Month called #lovetravels, with special deals for LGBT people tying the knot, or looking for places to stay for Pride. It's replete with glittering images of people such as pro basketball player Jason Collins and transgender fashion model Geena Rocero.

Here's an example of just how choked up they are about things:

At Marriott, there is no room for inequality. We believe that every guest, whoever they are, wherever they go, should feel comfortable and welcome the moment they walk through our doors.

Marriott is hardly in the vanguard of businesses chasing the golden egg of the LGBT community--in fact it seems to rely on some tiresome clichés about LGBT affluence. But it's identified an important niche--one other small businesses involved in travel or weddings might do well to emulate this summer.

"Marriott is tapping into the [LGBT] wedding business, and there is clearly money to be made there," says, M.V. Lee Badgett, the director of the Center for Public Policy & Administration at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She has studied the economic circumstances of the LGBT community for decades. "Even if LGBT families aren't more affluent than the average U.S. household, there are enough of them traveling around to constitute a niche." 

By some estimates, the global LGBT travel market is close to $200 billion annually. (A nice chunk of the estimated $1.4 trillion global travel market.) Around 30 percent of LGBT people have planned a major vacation in the last 12 months, according to a Community Marketing & Insights study from 2013.

But Badgett notes one little wrinkle in this strategy: Her research, and that of her peers at the gender research Williams Institute at UCLA, shows that LGBT people, in particular lesbians, typically make much less than their straight counterparts.

Here are some statistics from a 2013 Williams study that you might want to consider while creating your gay wedding marketing plans:

• 7.6 percent of lesbian couples, compared to 5.7 percent of married different-sex couples, are in poverty.

• African American same-sex couples have poverty rates more than twice the rate of different-sex married African Americans.

• One third of lesbian couples and 20.1 percent of gay male couples without a high school diploma are in poverty, compared to 18.8 percent of different-sex married couples.

• Lesbian couples who live in rural areas are much more likely to be poor (14.1 percent), compared to 4.5 percent of coupled lesbians in large cities. Of men in same-sex couples, 10.2 percent, who live in small metropolitan areas, are poor, compared with only 3.3 percent of coupled gay men in large metropolitan areas.

But never mind who's not spending for now. A sea change in public perception has occurred since the recent Supreme Court decision that overturned the federal ban on same sex marriages, and California's Proposition 8 which forbade them at the state level. At last count, 19 states have legalized same-sex marriage, and in half-a-dozen others, marriage ban laws are being tested in the courts.

And regardless of financial wealth, LGBT people do tend to have more time to spend, says Howard Buford, president and founder of Quorum Consulting, a cross-cultural marketing firm in East Hampton, New York.

"When you have lower incidents of having children, and you have more disposable time, that makes those consumers particularly interested in products and services consumed in units of disposable time--chiefly entertainment and travel," Buford says.

Buford also knows whereof he speaks, as his previous company, PrimeAccess Advertising, was the first company in the U.S. to get major companies like AT&T and American Express to start advertising to the LGBT community in the 1990s. PrimeAccess worked with Hyatt about eight years ago on its own campaign to get LGBT travelers to stay at its hotels.

"An analogy is the Baby Boom after World War II," Buford says. "You have a lot of pent up demand, and now there is a whole floodgate opening up for marriage and people wanting to take advantage of this [open] floodgate."

Now pass that tissue box please.

Last updated: Jun 3, 2014

JEREMY QUITTNER | Staff Writer | Staff Writer, Inc. and Inc.com

Jeremy Quittner is a staff writer for Inc. magazine and Inc.com. He previously covered technology for American Banker and entrepreneurship for BusinessWeek.




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