Do I have to paint my hotel pink
to welcome gay travellers?
It doesn't take much to signal to your gay guests that you understand their needs. Here are some top tips...
OK, I get it. Gay people have more money, more time and travel more than their straight counterparts. That’s great. But what do I have to do to make my hotel welcoming to them? Do I have to paint it pink?
Um, no. And anyway, pink is so last year.
Carlos Kytka, Executive Director of GETA, the Gay European Tourism Association, knows a bit about managing hotels. His management career has taken him to 5 star hotels in Vienna, Berlin and London with companies such as Intercontinental and Starwood. He also knows about gay travellers, having been the European Ambassador of the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association. I asked him for his tips.
“For me, the most important thing that a hotelier can do is make his guest feel welcome. Not only are welcome guests happy guests, but they are more likely to come back again. This last bit is really important. I read somewhere that it costs five times more to win a new customer than to retain an existing one.”
So, how do you make gay people feel welcome?
“It’s not really what you provide, its more about how you make them feel. You need to understand the things that are important for gay people and be sensitive to them. Let me tell you a few things that get gay people annoyed. First, two men or two women turning up at reception and being asked whether they realised that they had booked a double room. Finding welcome messages and letters addressed to Mr and Mrs Kytka, which my husband really doesn’t appreciate. Arriving for a valentine weekend and finding that all the straight couples get a special package and you and your partner don’t. It’s these sorts of things that make us feel less than welcome”
Ok, but how do you know if your guests are gay?
“Well, the booking’s a bit of a giveaway. Mr and Mr Kytka should give you a hint. Having a reservation system that seeks information about why guests are staying is also helpful. If you take bookings from travel agents, make sure you know which ones aim at the gay market”
And if that doesn’t help?
“It’s about attitude and tone. “We have a double room for you” is far more welcoming than “oh, you seem to have booked a double room, will that be OK?”
So, do the facilities have to be different for gay guests?
“No, not really. But there are some little things you could do which show that you have given some thought to your gay guests.”
Such as ?
“Well, first, how much do you or your staff know about local gay information? If a guest asks you to recommend a good restaurant you will have no problem. But what if he asks you if there is a gay restaurant? Or where is the nearest gay bar? Would you know what to say? Probably not. Some big hotels have a gay concierge who knows everything gay. You don’t need to go that far, but showing a little thought is hugely appreciated. ”
“This is particularly important if there happens to be a gay event going on. Many cities have an annual gay pride parade. I was in Madrid for Europride a few years ago and it attracted over two million people. You can bet that every hotel that weekend had gay guests. So, where were the gay pride programmes, the gay maps of Madrid or flyers from the clubs? The smart hotels had made sure they gathered all the local information about the weekend’s events so they could help their gay guests and make them feel welcome.”
“And by the way, we chose our hotel that weekend, along with loads of other gay people, because it had a rooftop pool and bar, perfect for pre- and post-pride parties. Except that on the Saturday of pride they closed it for a private wedding. Not only was that insensitive to us but I’m sure that the happy couple and their guests didn’t appreciate having to push through crowds of partying gay boys and girls to get to the reception. We won’t be going there again.”
That’s OK for city hotels, but what if I’m in the country?
“Even in the countryside you can show gay guests that you have made the effort. I know a couple whose hotel is in the countryside just up from the Mediterranean. But they have found out the names of the gay bar in their nearest big city, an hour away, and discovered which beach is favourite for local gay people. A few minutes on the internet found them what their gay guests wanted to know.”
“Well, gay people tend not to have kids and don’t really appreciate screaming youngsters when they are trying to relax. How about a kid-free area by the pool – for gays and straights? Also you may have pay-for adult channels on your TV – is there a gay one? It may never get watched but it’s the thought that counts. There are loads of little things like this that show that you are thinking about your gay guests”
That’s easy to say but how do you find out about all this?
“Well, by joining GETA, obviously! But you will be surprised by the resources you might already have around you. Do you have gay staff who you could bring on board to explore ways of being more welcoming? I bet they would appreciate being asked. Or maybe there is a local gay business, a bar, a restaurant or a shop. Go and talk to the owner, and see what happens. Make a business deal. And of course, talk to your gay customers. Just ask them what they liked, what they didn’t and what you could do to make your hotel more welcoming. You’ll know your gay customers – chances are they are the two men or women who booked that double bed!”
Won’t this upset my straight guests?
“No, because you are not doing anything to your straight guests. You are just making your gay guest feel more welcome with subtle but appreciated thoughtfulness. Remember, you are not painting your hotel pink. Actually, it can be helpful. Harrah’s, the huge hotel and casino chain in Las Vegas, not only go out of their way to welcome gay guests but they actively support and finance gay rights activities. They know that it shows people that they are cool, and the type of people they want to attract appreciate that.”
Do I have to be gay to welcome gay guests?
“Some hotels are run by gay people for gay people. But the vast majority are traditionally run hotels who just want to attract gay people as a valuable part of their customer mix.”
How will my gay guests know I am gay friendly?
“Well, the good thing about the gay community is that it’s a bit like a worldwide club. And there are signs that gay people recognise that most straight people don’t. The rainbow is the international gay flag. A small rainbow on your front desk or website will mean nothing to most people but it lets gay people know you are welcoming to them. Or join one of the two big gay travel organisation. GETA is the one for Europe and the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association (IGLTA) is worldwide. A gay traveller seeing their logos will get what you mean.”
How to I market to gay guests?
“It’s actually quiet easy. But that’s a whole new article. A good start, however, would be GETA's Gay Media Directory - it lists the world's major gay publications, saving you a huge amount of time”
So there you have it. Nothing major or costly. Just a bit of thought and time and sensitivity. And with gay Europeans spending around €50 billion of travel each year, it seems like a small investment to make to secure your share of this valuable market.