Gay Market Worth US$63b, Where is Asia in this Picture?
By Yeoh Siew Hoon
Saturday, 20th March 2010
Asia doesn't come on strong on the gay and lesbian radar, officially that is; one country however – Nepal – has made clear its intentions.

According to the International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association (IGLTA), the gay market is valued at US$63 billion in the US and they are "loyal, have hig disposable income and are less volatile" travellers.

IGLTA, set up in 1983, now covers 72 countries and counts among its corporate partners companies like Hyatt, Accor, British Airways, American Airlines and Travelocity.

According to the 14th Annual Gay & Lesbian Tourism Report, conducted by US-based Community Marketing Inc (CMI), 56% of gay travellers book direct through airline and hotel websites and 34% through OTAs (Online Travel Agencies).

The survey, which covered mostly gay respondents in US, Canada and Europe, also showed a drop last year in gay and lesbian travel for the first time in 15 years, which goes to show this segment was also affected by the economic downturn.

As a result, "staycations" – travellers staying at home – grew 66%.

And how to reach this segment of travellers? Traveller reviews have become a major influencer at the expense of banner ads. Travel articles in LGBT media as well as mass media are also influencers.

The survey also showed that interest in health and fitness among this segment is on the wane and more gay travellers now want to enjoy the sights and experience the destination, in particular local neighbourhoods and gay restaurants and clubs.

Pride events are still important in attracting these travellers, accounting for a quarter of the market.

And the top three destinations are New York, San Francisco and Las Vegas.

Curious, I asked the panelists what their perceptions were of destinations in Asia – I think I was the only delegate from Asia in the room.

According to Thomas Bomkes of Tomontour.com, the portal for gay travellers and friends, Thailand is seen as the most gay-friendly destination. "Indonesia is not, but Bali is."

And he said, Nepal, India and China were also being noticed by the gay community at large.

Nepal started openly courting the gay and lesbian market late last year following the appointment of Asia's first openly gay lawmaker Sunil Babu Pant, who is also Chairman of Blue Diamond Society. Pant also runs a tourism company called the Pink Mountain tour company.

Pant, who has been involved in promoting Nepal as a destination for sexual minorities, believes that the state could revive the economy if it could bring in at least 10 percent of the total LGBT population. "All that the government has to do is welcome LGBT travellers," says Pant in a report in the Kathmandu Post last October.

Nepal Tourism Board (NTB) officials hope that LGBT arrivals will contribute to the government aim of bringing in a million foreign tourists in the Nepal Tourism Year 2011.

According to the report, Community Marketing Inc. has agreed to join hands in promoting Nepal as one of the best destinations for sexual minorities. A CMI research shows that gay and lesbian consumers make up at least 10% of the consumer market.

LGBT activists say they prefer destinations like Nepal, which is rich in culture, art, architecture, cuisine and music.

"The CMI believes that Nepal has both natural beauty and the goodwill of the LGBT community worldwide to emerge as one of the world's top destinations for sexual minorities", said the report

The same week the panel was held, Associated Press also ran a report on Nepal courting the gay tourism market.

"That quest – brushing aside historical biases in pursuit of economic opportunity – is symbolic of one of the gay rights movement's most stunning successes," reports the AP.

"Nepal has an openly gay parliamentarian, it is issuing ‘third gender' identity cards and it appears set to enshrine gay rights – and possibly even same-sex marriage – in a new constitution."

Perhaps Nepal should make a bid to host the ILGTA annual conference, which will be held from June 23-27 in Belgium this year?

Yeoh Siew Hoon, one of Asia's most respected travel editors and commentators, writes a regular column on news, trends and issues in the hospitality industry for 4Hoteliers.com.

Siew Hoon, who has covered the tourism industry in Asia/Pacific for the past 20 years, runs SHY Ventures Pte Ltd. Her other writings can be found at www.thetransitcafe.com

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