Travel agents cashing in on 'pink dollar'

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 08 August, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 08 August, 1999, 12:00am

THE travel industry is starting to target Hong Kong's gay community as the holiday business hones in on the 'pink dollar'.

Getaway packages and airline discounts are on offer to gay couples as the industry seeks to embrace a cash-rich sector of the community that is shedding its traditional taboos.

One agency, as well as offering family and business holidays, is now touting specially designed holidays for gay and lesbian couples.

Concorde Travel has gay staff on hand to advise clients and is advertising an all-gay cruise to Alaska on board the Norwegian Dynasty, which sets sail from Vancouver on August 31.

'Ten years ago, there would only be the odd inquiry from gay and lesbian clients. That's changed now,' managing director Graham Elson said.

Some traditional reserve remained however, he said, and some people were reluctant to have their names on the mailing list of a travel agent offering gay-friendly trips.

Airline Ansett Australia has joined in on the act by launching the 'Rainbow Club' specifically for gay and lesbian fliers.

It is believed to be the only airline to specifically target that market.

It is understood a blossoming Hong Kong interest in Sydney's annual gay and lesbian Mardi Gras is where Ansett sees a potential market.

Gay people are offered special benefits, including business class check-in, an extra baggage allowance and 'Spaceship' economy seating on the top deck of planes.

Roddy Shaw, a Hong Kong-based independent gay activist, said it was 'always good to have gay-friendly businesses who cater to clients with special investment or travel needs'.

'Often there are specific needs which are very different from the average nuclear family,' he said.

But he warned it was no good from an activist's point of view to promote the idea that the gay community was a commodity.

It was not uncommon for members of the straight community to 'jump on the bandwagon' and see the gay market purely from a commercial point of view, he said.

'But often if the businesses are run by gay-friendly people, then it can be a form of self-empowerment in exercising economic strength,' he said.

'It's often a softer way of educating the public to be more gay-friendly.'