Expert: Study Represents Hawaii’s Most Aggressive Push for LGBT Market in Years

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A recent study in which Hawaii researched LGBT tourists’ interest in visiting the destination from six different countries is evidence that the Aloha State is looking to aggressively attract LGBT visitors, says David Paisley, senior research director with Community Marketing & Insights (CMI).

CMI recently conducted the study in conjunction with the Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA). The HTA recently issued four research studies offering comprehensive findings about the profiles, preferences and sentiments of LGBT travelers from the United States, Canada, China, and Australia as it relates to the Hawaiian Islands.

Two additional studies by HTA evaluating LGBT travel to Hawaii from Japan and Taiwan are in progress and will be issued within the next couple of months.

“This is something unusual what Hawaii did,” says Paisley. “They decided to really look at international perspective from country to county. It is somewhat unusual the fact that Hawaii is looking at six very different countries.”

On September 9, 2013, Governor Neil Abercrombie announced that he was calling the Hawaii State Legislature into special session on October 28 to consider the same-sex marriage bill. The bill had wide support in the Senate as well as the required majority in the House. After it was eventually approved, the bill would take effect November 18 of that year. 

But Hawaii wasn’t always perceived as a champion of the LGBT market. In fact, Paisley says the LGBT market felt obviously unwanted by the Aloha State when the state enacted a statute banning same-sex marriage in 1994. 

“It is part of the history of Hawaii tourism that there is always this hope for the LGBT market in Hawaii and then there was the change [in 1994],” says Paisley. “There wasn’t any backlash, but it was still the fact that there was this right that was taken away from the LGBT community and it created a funny feeling between LGBT members and Hawaii.”

Hawaii established reciprocal beneficiary relationships, a limited form of civil union, for both same-sex and opposite-sex couples in 1997. Numerous legislative attempts to enact fuller civil unions equivalent with other jurisdictions' civil unions and domestic partnerships have failed. But Governor Linda Lingle vetoed a civil union law in 2010.

“The push to embrace the LGBT market was really hot at one point and then there was all this strangeness in the '90s and then you saw that push kind of just go away and they really took a break at the wrong time,” Paisley says. “Now, they are trying to re-establish themselves as wanting the LGBT market again.”

But it appears Hawaii still has some work to do to attract this market, especially from the U.S. Only 27 percent of LGBT Americans who participated in the study on LGBT tourism expressed interest in visiting Hawaii in the next two years. 

Although 70 percent of all those who participated in the study said they were aware that Hawaii is an LGBT-friendly destination, the study shows a major lull in LGBT Millennials visiting the Aloha State.

But it’s not just LGBT Millennials that the HTA would like to see more of, it’s actually more Millennials in general

“Hawaii is a mature market that is well-known to Baby Boomers. Our biggest challenge is getting global Millennial travelers to realize what a remarkable and authentic travel experience Hawaii offers,” George D. Szigeti, president and CEO of the HTA, told Travel Agent in a recent “Five Questions With…” story. 

Marketing products that appeal to LGBT travelers are key to increasing loyalty to the Hawaiian Islands. For example, the studies found that LGBT travelers would be highly likely to visit Hawaii for an LBGT multi-island cruise or outdoor adventure week, and they prefer nightclubs and bars catering to Hawaii’s LGBT community. However, the research showed such a preference does not exist for activities like a dinner cruise, catamaran sail, luau, tour, and hikes.

“We initiated these studies so that our tourism industry partners would have a better understanding about the preferences and profiles of LGBT travelers and how they could customize their own marketing and services accordingly,” says Szigeti.

Various market studies estimate that LGBT travel to Hawaii can be up to six percent of total visitors from both Japan and Canada, up to seven percent of total visitors from the U.S. West, and up to nine percent of total visitors from the U.S. East.

“I think what Hawaii is saying is that, ‘we are back [to promoting LGBT travel], but before we come back and invest a lot of money, we want to do the research,” says Paisley.

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