The Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) released four studies in March focused on LGBT tourism to the Islands, which, as a whole, demonstrate plenty of room for growth in attracting LGBT travelers, especially among millennials and residents of mainland China.
The studies were the first of their kind commissioned by the HTA, and were conducted by the San Francisco-based Community Marketing and Insights.
"We initiated these studies to provide travel industry businesses statewide with both a broader and more precise base of knowledge as to how they can capture a greater market share of LGBT travelers from our key source markets," HTA director of tourism research Daniel Nahoopii said in a statement. "These studies also confirm that Hawaii travel providers can benefit from more targeted marketing, new product offerings and a greater understanding as to what LGBT travelers are seeking when visiting Hawaii."
Among U.S. travelers, 70% of those surveyed consider Hawaii an LGBT-friendly destination, but just 27% expressed interest in making a trip to the islands in the next two years. Fifty percent of Canadians gave Hawaii a positive rating as an LGBT-friendly destination. Hawaii lags behind both Southern California and South Florida in the rankings for LGBT-friendly destinations.
"These LGBT-friendly ratings are good, but not great," the report states. "Clearly, there is work to do to improve the destination's LGBT-friendly image and reputation."
In addition to Florida and Southern California, Hawaii competes with urban destinations like San Francisco, Las Vegas and Western Europe. The typical LGBT visitor to Hawaii from the mainland has a household income greater than $100,000.
While 20% of baby boomers and 17% of those surveyed from Generation X had visited Hawaii in the last three years, only 11% of millennial respondents had been to the Islands in that period. The report argues that the relative high cost of a Hawaii trip, and the high interest among millennial gay men in urban core vacations, depressed Hawaii's numbers among LGBT millennials.
The report suggests Hawaii could do well to feature advertising that is directed at the LGBT market.
"To increase LGBT tourism, HTA could specifically welcome LGBT travelers through a dedicated campaign," the report states. "Hawaii might consider including same-sex couples, along with opposite-sex couples in a commercial or campaign to the general population. This approach often produces excellent results not only from the LGBT community, but also from millennials."
John Tanzella, president and CEO of the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association, said he loves Hawaii as a destination, but agrees that the state could benefit from more outreach. Destinations like Mexico and Fort Lauderdale have a longer history of targeting LGBT Travelers, and Hawaii has some catch up to do, according to Tanzella.
"LGBT travelers want to be spoken to, even if it's included in the broader advertising," he said. "San Francisco does a good job of including the LGBT market in overall advertising. I don't know if Hawaii is far enough along yet to do that, but specific messaging, such as highlighting the LGBT events there, could be a real opportunity."
The first four reports cover the U.S., China, Australia and Canada. Studies covering the LGBT markets in Taiwan and Japan are forthcoming, according to the HTA.
While there are some barriers, including cost and flight time, the report suggests mainland China may be a strong LGBT market for Hawaii, with an estimated LGBT population of 65 million with purchasing power of $470 billion.
"I think there is a lot of opportunity for Hawaii," Tanzella said. "They are really just starting to scratch the surface in the LGBT market, and it could be a really lucrative market. With Oahu and some of the other islands' existing infrastructure, I think it could be a big destination. They could do so much more with gay weddings and honeymoons since they are already established in that area."