Kelly Sans Culotte


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Wyndham and W Hotels Bed Gays
Niche outreach also includes women, Latinos, seniors and African-Americans.
By Michael Wilke


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MARCH 10, 2004. While individual hotels have been seeking lesbian and gay customers for years, chains like Wyndham International are also beginning to open their doors to the gay market.

Pillow Talk
"I want foam pillows for me and feather ones for my partner — he's like that," reads the new ad, picturing a handsome man, in February issues of gay magazines. Like many corporations' first efforts in the last year, Wyndham began with a gay-specific print campaign, part of a new $10 million effort for 2004 created by Kirshenbaum Bond & Partners, New York.

The ad promotes Wyndham's ByRequest program, whose members get customized room amenities, such as particular beverages and snacks, when they arrive at any of the hotel's 220 locations. The ad asks, "Do you want his and his matching bathrobes?"

Andrew Jordan, executive vice president-chief marketing officer for Wyndham, says, "Our brand message is about personalizing the experience. Everything we're trying to do as a brand is consistent in speaking to the individual as much as possible."

Despite their new effort, Wyndham isn't patting itself on the back. "This isn't something we thought was 'bold,'" says Jordan. "Our internal reaction was, 'Why didn't we do this before?'" Their niche outreach also includes women, Latinos, seniors and African-Americans.

Commitment Ceremonies Lead to Wyndham's Interest
Over the last two years, a few individual Wyndham properties, such as the Belage in West Hollywood, California, and the Buttes Resort in Tempe, Arizona, advertised in gay media, offering special packages for commitment ceremonies. Their success contributed to the corporate decision to go national.

"The more research we did, the more it warranted more than just property-specific efforts," explains Jordan.

With the recent legal victory in Massachusetts for same-sex marriage, and marriage licenses being issued in San Francisco, might Wyndham expand its commitment ceremony packages offer? "We talked about that," Jordan says, but no decisions have been made yet.

Individual hotels often advertise before their national parent chains do. Back in 1994, the Seattle Days Inn and La Jolla, California Hyatt ran gay print ads, and then in 2000, Hyatt began a corporate national effort with general ads in gay magazines. Similarly, the Inter-Continental Hotel Paris ran an effort in 1996, then the corporation appeared in 2003 Pride publications nationally.

In Australia, in 2002, Bass Hotels & Resorts ran a gay-specific ad for Holiday Inn in gay media, and so did Radisson Hotels, but they never ran in the U.S. Last year, MGM Mirage properties Borgata and New York-New York also got into the gay market, as did the Mandalay Resort Group's Luxor, which will soon introduce a print ad with two men hugging.

W Hotels Want Willow & William & Whitney & Wilma
A general market ad for W Hotels, the chic boutique mini-chain of Starwood Hotels & Resorts, first appeared in OUT magazine in December 1998. Then last August, the brand offered a playfully romantic black-and-white ad with two men in bed. One asks the other, "Do you have the energy to roll over and call for brunch?" Male couple and female couple ads ran in gay media as well as Gotham, Hamptons, and LA Confidential.

Openly gay chief marketing officer Ross Klein says the in-house ad agency kept showing him images of "Willow & William" in ads, all carrying the 'w' theme in naming. He told them, "You should be nonspecific or show a much greater inclusion of people. So then we also had 'Walter & Ward' and 'Whitney & Wilma.'"

W promoted its Weekenders packages to Pride events in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Seattle and San Francisco. "We did very well" in response rates, Klein notes.

Not letting the w's rest, Klein also mentions that a program called "Whatever, Whenever" was modified to add "For Whomever" to be gay-inclusive. Front desk staff and Welcome Ambassadors were trained to expect same-sex couples, not stumble over a question about a single bed in the room.

"We've had wonderful, wonderful feedback," notes Klein, still working the w's.

Gay Travel Market Untapped
Gay and lesbian travel represents a $54.1 billion segment, or an estimated 10 percent of the U.S. travel industry, according to Community Marketing Inc. Its 2001-2003 study of the market found 97 percent took vacations in the past 12 months (the national average is 64 percent), and 82 percent spent 5 or more nights in hotels.

With those types of numbers, Wyndham's Jordan sees a largely untapped opportunity in the hotels category. "No one is out there talking to [gay travelers] to the degree that we are," he notes. "There's an opportunity for us to own the market and build loyalty." He expects the effort to grow in 2004.

But W isn't wandering away. A new campaign called Wonderland (as in Alice) is expected in May with gay-specific ads. As W Hotels opens new properties in Sydney, Mexico City, Montreal and Seoul, bringing it to 20 locations, Klein hints it may even become the first corporation to run gay-specific ads internationally. Wow.

Mike Wilke's Commercial Closet column covers gay issues in advertising, marketing and media. For 85 years of gay images worldwide see www.CommercialCloset.org.



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