The pink pound

01 May 2003 by
The pink pound

If one place in the UK is going to feel the glow of the "pink pound" this summer, it will be Manchester, when the city with the gay-friendly reputation hosts Europe's biggest gay and lesbian festival.

EuroPride, which will incorporate the city's traditional three-day Mardi Gras festival, is expected to attract about 300,000 people to the city over 10 days of events in August that will include an international swimming tournament, a gay film festival and exhibitions and performances across the city. Organisers expect 15,000 visitors from overseas and estimate that the entire event will pull in £22m.

As the world's first industrial city, Manchester might seem an unlikely centre for the gay community, but it is now dubbed Britain's second largest gay city after London. In the early 1990s, gay-friendly bars began opening along Canal Street, which soon acquired a reputation for trendy but safe night-life, attracting a mainly gay, but mixed, crowd. Its annual Mardi Gras has been growing ever since.

"Mardi Gras is one of the biggest events in the Manchester calendar and this year it's going to be even bigger," says Peter Beswick, who has run Manchester's oldest gay pub and hotel, the Rembrandt, for 19 years. "We're fully booked most weekends anyway, so we often have to send people to the Ibis or Travel Inn."

Gay and lesbian events are growing year by year and are recognised as festivals with huge pulling power in a segment of the market that is more inclined to travel and spend money than the straight community. It has taken a few years to get away from segregating gay travellers into strictly gay hotels, but tourist boards around the country are now steering more gay tourists towards mainstream hotels.

This year saw the first issue of the London Tourist Board's Gay & Lesbian London Guide, part of a major campaign to target this lucrative sector. Aimed at tourists from Europe and the USA, it features a section on gay-friendly hotels, which lists 20 establishments such as the Marriott County Hall, the Great Eastern and One Aldwych.

Active promotion
Although most hotels are happy to accommodate gay and lesbian guests, few actively promote themselves to that sector. Superbreak, one of Britain's biggest tour operators, seized on this two years ago when it bought operator Rainbow Holidays and relaunched it to promote hotels to the gay and lesbian sector.

"Everyone was talking about the pink pound, so I decided to do some research," says Ray Jones, brand development director for Rainbow Holidays. "I am married with two children and it was a whole new world to me."

Although there were a number of gay holiday companies, few promoted accommodation, and Jones soon found a huge market of hotels that wanted a slice of the action. Rainbow, which works on a 30% margin, approached all the mainstream hotels that were already with Superbreak and signed 250 of them up in the first week.

Being the official accommodation agent for events such as EuroPride in Manchester and the London Mardi Gras and being listed in the London Tourist Board's Gay & Lesbian London Guide, Rainbow has helped hotel groups such as Jarvis, Holiday Inn, Golden Tulip and Novotel tap into a new market sector.

But it's not just a matter of flagging up your hotel as "gay-friendly" and waiting for the dosh to roll in.

A common complaint from gay couples is the way they are treated by reception staff, both at the point of reserving the room and in the welcome they receive on arrival.

Rainbow marketing consultant Jason Pollock says the main thing to overcome is "check-in phobia". "Some couples experience check-in phobia, " he says, "where the receptionist sees they are a same-sex couple and immediately tries to give them separate rooms or twin beds."

VisitBritain, the UK's main tourism body, has guidelines for catering for gay visitors, ranging from asking the right questions when taking telephone bookings to making sure staff are aware that the hotel has a policy of welcoming same-sex couples.

Blatant homophobia is now rare, but more common is an unwelcoming reception, particularly in hotels outside cities.

"I had a problem when I stayed with my partner in a hotel in Stratford-upon-Avon," says Beswick. "When we arrived, they didn't say anything, but the looks and the vibes we were getting made me want to ask them if they had a problem. The key thing is training reception staff. Who are they to judge? So long as people behave themselves, it should make no difference."

It makes no difference which sector you are targeting - understanding the market and fulfilling its needs will win business. And as more mainstream hotels jump on the gay bandwagon, competing will require more than simply labelling your hotel "gay-friendly" and hoping the reception staff are courteous.

Red Carnation Hotels, which owns five boutique hotels in London, ensures it has a presence at gay travel expos in the UK and abroad, as well as at gay business networking events. More recently it has teamed up with gay website www.gay.com, which links to its own micro-website, www.rch.biz/gay, designed specifically for the gay community. Staff are trained to treat same-sex couples the same as other customers, and concierges will be armed with information about the capital's gay scene.

Special promotions Red Carnation reservations manager and Caterer Acorn winner Darren Evans has been heading a number of promotions geared to this year's London Mardi Gras with names such as Dorothy Discounts, Mardi Gras Madness and Festival Frolics.

Evans has been working with local businesses to put together packages such as arranging for a hairdresser to come to the hotel on the morning of the big day.

"The packages work around what gay men and women want," he says. "So if they want to look fabulous for Mardi Gras, we can arrange that. We have also included a late checkout for the day after."

Part of this promotion involved two people from the group dropping leaflets in Manchester's gay clubs and bars - which has already resulted in about 50 bookings.

"It doesn't take that much to organise," says Evans. "We did all the leaflets in-house, and it only cost us travel and accommodation for one night. You get much more out of it than you put in."

What's the market worth? The pink pound - or the Dorothy dollar, as it is known in the USA - has huge potential for the hospitality industry. Gay couples, typically with two incomes and no children, tend to spend more money on leisure time and travelling.

Did you know? * It is estimated that gays make up 4% of the total UK population, representing 1.9 million customers.
\ Gay customers are perceived to have a higher-than-average income, largely because of having fewer dependants than the average consumer.
* Gay people tend to maintain a more youthful lifestyle for longer, and with it a higher spend. Socialising and holiday-making are higher priorities for them than for the population as a whole.
* Their average income is £22,130, compared with £19,400 nationally.
* Sixty per cent frequent a gay pub at least at least once a month, compared with 38% of the general population frequenting any pub.
* Most gay bars and pubs are run by independents.
* Multiple holiday-making is higher than average, with 46% of gay/bisexual respondents having taken two or more holidays, compared with 30% of adults in market researcher TGI's annual survey.
\
About 23% of gay respondents had taken a city break, compared with an average of 9%, in an NOP survey commissioned by Mintel.

Source: Mintel International, April 2001Make your hotel gay-friendly * Make sure all staff are aware that the hotel has a policy of welcoming same-sex couples and that they are to be treated exactly as any other guest. This is particularly important for front-of-house and housekeeping staff.

* When taking bookings, don't assume anything. Ask for the "partner's" name rather than that of the wife, girlfriend or boyfriend.

* Always offer every possible sleeping configuration. Just as you cannot assume that a same-sex couple require twin beds, you also cannot assume that they require a double bed.

* It is helpful to have some local knowledge of "gay life" in the area, such as bars and clubs. If you have brochure racking, include information among the rest of your brochures.

* When seating same-sex couples in a restaurant, do not assume they will want to be discreet in a corner. If there are candles on the table, light them.

Advice from VisitBritain
Gay and lesbian events calendar
8-11 May
The International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association Trade Show, Bridgewater Hall, Manchester
This exhibition is being held in Manchester for the first time and aims to attract about 150 exhibitors involved in the gay travel industry around the world.

www.iglta.org

21 June
Leicester Pride 2003 In its third year, the event involves a parade followed by a festival in Victoria Park, and is expected to attract about 9,500 people.

www.leicesterpride.co.uk

26 July
Pride in the Park For the first time in its 30-year history, London's Gay Pride festival will take place in central London this year, in Hyde Park. More than 60,000 people are expected to attend, and the London Tourist Board is actively promoting the event abroad. Big-name performers will be announced nearer the time.

www.prideinthepark.com

9 August
Pride in Brighton & Hove Held for the fifth year running in Preston Park, Brighton's Mardi Gras is a major event on the gay social calendar, attracting about 60,000 people in the past two years. Big-name performers and a circus are promised this year.

www.prideinbrightonandhove.com

15-25 August
EuroPride Manchester 2003 The two-week EuroPride extravaganza will be held in the UK for the first time since it was staged in London in 1992. Events include the EuroPride international swimming tournament and a gay film festival as well as the colourful Mardi Gras weekend festival centred on Canal Street. Last year the event was held in Cologne, where it attracted 1.3 million visitors.

www.europridemanchester.com

30 August
Cardiff Mardi Gras This colourful celebration, held in the grounds of Cardiff Castle, has grown in its five-year history from pulling in a crowd of 5,000 in its first year to 30,000 at last year's event.

www.cardiffmardigras.co.uk

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