lesbian coupleHere are some ways that travel sellers have been successful at marketing Hawaii to the LGBT community:

• Hawaii is one of nine states that recognizes same-sex unions. The Aloha State's civil unions law took effect Jan. 1, 2012, and resulted in a substantial boost in business for many tourism providers across the Islands catering to the LGBT market.

Aqua Hospitality, a Waikiki-based company that now manages 24 properties across the Aloha State, was a strong supporter of the civil unions law and according to Elizabeth Churchill, Aqua's senior vice president of sales and marketing, has since pressured state politicians to move forward with legislation allowing same-sex marriages, not only because it's the right thing to do, in their view, but also because a Hawaii marriage-equality law would be good for business.

"[LGBT] is a market that has a lot of disposable income, and they like to travel," Churchill explained. "We've seen the stats from other states that passed marriage equality, and tourism numbers there have increased substantially from the LGBT market."

There are many companies that put together same-sex wedding packages across the state, many of which work with travel agents.

GayHawaiiWedding.com and its sister company HawaiiWedding.com work with travel agents and pay 10% commission. Also visit InHeavenCommitments.com and AlohaMauiGayWeddings.com.

• Slated for launch in late June, Aqua Hospitality's first travel agent Web portal is currently under development and will ultimately feature a range of education and training tools along with a bookings-based loyalty program offering cash bonuses to qualified agents.

According to Churchill, the website will provide agents with access to a range of exclusive packages and specials while including an LGBT market module designed specifically to help agents sell Aqua properties to gay and lesbian travelers.

guys playing volleyball• Agents looking to learn more about marketing specifically to LGBT travelers may want to consider Community Marketing's annual International Conference on Gay and Lesbian Tourism in San Francisco, now in its 14th year and created specifically to help businesses and travel professionals reach the LGBT market.

Churchill said Aqua has sent representatives several years running and found the event to be an excellent resource for boosting LGBT business.

"We meet a lot of travel agents that focus on the LGBT market at the show, so that's a big one for us," Churchill said. "I kind of hate to mention it to you because everybody's going to jump on the bandwagon."

• For agent Neal Miller of Atlanta's Neal Miller Travel Co., sending out weekly and monthly email newsletters is a proven way to attract attention from both straight and LGBT clients, but he's quick to provide gay-specific options when gay and lesbian clients express interest. Miller has also modified his company website to attract LGBT viewers and takes advantage of a range of Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau (HVCB) agent education programs.

"The LGBT tab on my website is helpful as a source of specific LBGT vacations that we offer," he said. "And I maintain my Hawaii destination master's certification knowledge by attending weekly training webinars and annual HVCB mainland events, like the Hawaii Travel Exchange."
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