Thursday, July 19, 2001

Eduardo Hernandez makes his case for targeted marketing
to gay and lesbian tourists to the Hawaii Tourism Authority
marketing committee. He suggested "a rainbow flag or
pink triangle" on the tourism Web site to identify
gay-friendly attractions.

Tourism industry
urged to market
to gays

Ignoring the market sends
a message, consultant says

By Russ Lynch

If Hawaii's tourism industry doesn't actively promote the islands as friendly to gays and lesbians it is sending a counter message that "you're not welcome," consultant Eduardo Hernandez told a meeting of the Hawaii Tourism Authority marketing committee yesterday.

Hernandez acknowledged that the message isn't intended, that it is "unwitting," but that it gets across all the same and could hurt a market that is known for big spending in travel destinations.

Tony Vericella, Hawaii Visitors & Convention Bureau president and chief executive, said the HVCB has begun to do niche marketing only in very recent years and it still has to bow to the wishes of its members, most of whom want to reach the broadest market possible.

Vericella said, however, he agrees with Hernandez that gays are big spenders and make up an upscale market.

Jack Law, whose Pacific Bar Associates owns gay-targeted Hula's Bar & Lei Stand and who has been active in Hawaii show business and tourism for many years, handed out a statement saying Hula's -- "long synonymous with the words 'Gay Waikiki' " -- is launching a new initiative to promote awareness in the tourist industry of the value of the gay and lesbian market.

He and Hernandez have been working for several years to get that message across, he said.

Hula's will play a lead role in what is possibly Hawaii's biggest gay event, the Volcano Party, scheduled for March 16, 2002, at the Hawaii Convention Center.

The gay and lesbian dance party will coincide with the visit to the islands of the Norwegian Star's all-gay cruise of about 2,000 passengers.

The party will help organizations working to deal with AIDS/HIV problems in Hawaii, Law said.

Hernandez said the gay and lesbian market is "a niche market too valuable to ignore," following up on the theme repeated many times before, that gay tourists tend to be adults, many of them in professions, earning good salaries and having no children.

"It's really a group that Hawaii needs to be looking at," he said.

If the Volcano Party becomes an annual event, for example, it could easily match the White Party in Miami, which is estimated to pump $15 million into the local economy, or the gay and lesbian ski weekend each January in Aspen, Colo., which is the second most popular week at the resort after Christmas, he said.

He asked why the HVCB telephone operators who answer "800" number calls can't be prepared at least to tell callers where the gay beaches are.

Vericella said he will look into that and is happy to learn more about the needs of any tourism market segment.

Operators won't tell callers where the nude beaches are because nudity is illegal on all of Hawaii's public beaches, but some education about gay and lesbian preferences might be a good idea, Vericella said.

Hernandez listed what he called a series of myths about the gay and lesbian market.

The main one, he said, is the perception that if there is active marketing aimed at gays it will scare off straight travelers and there is simply no evidence to support that.

Hawaii is "known for tolerance and diversity," he said.

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