Big Hong Kong firms shun phone app for 'gay-friendly' shopping

Small companies and global businesses sign up for Pink Dollar but larger local concerns fail to respond

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 02 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 02 December, 2012, 10:26am

Some of Hong Kong's biggest companies have shunned a smartphone application that lists gay-friendly businesses.

Global businesses and smaller local companies, however, have embraced the Pink Dollar app since its launch in October.

Created by a Briton, Paul Ramscar, the app now features 100 retailers and service providers. Each business must be vetted as gay-friendly by Ramscar and each pays HK$500 to HK$2,000 a month to be on the directory.

The listings include the British bank Barclays, the retail chain Goods of Desire, and the hair and skin salon Paul Gerrard.

But 14 large local corporations in the airline, food and fashion sectors approached by Ramscar have not responded, he said.

"I would love to see a Hong Kong bank or airline on the app," Ramscar said. "But maybe they are afraid of alienating their heterosexual customer base."

"Chasing the 'pink dollar' in Hong Kong" Video by Hedy Bok

The term "pink dollar" describes the purchasing power of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, many of whom have high disposable incomes to spend on quality products and services.

Ramscar, who moved to the city five years ago, assesses the gay-friendliness of a business by sending out "mystery customers".

He will soon hand out stickers bearing the Pink Dollar logo for businesses to put on their storefront windows.

The directory includes categories such as bars, restaurants, health and beauty, jewellery, sauna and massage, legal services, financial services, clothing and accessories, and travel agents.

It was an advertising agency's survey of gay men in the city in 2010 that gave Ramscar the idea for the app.

The agency found 95 per cent of the 396 men polled said they would boycott any brand they perceived as discriminatory.

To help LGBT customers shop in peace, Ramscar organises private shopping events through the app. A recent event was held at the luxury bedlinen retailer Burnt Orange, which saw a turnout of more than 50 people.

Ramscar said private Pink Dollar events would draw the silent gay community: "There is still this sentiment that you don't want to be seen, for fear of bullying."

Tarynn Hatton-Jones, managing director of Burnt Oringe, said appearing on the app had introduced her to LGBT clients who had an exquisite taste for luxury goods.

"The LGBT community knows exactly what they want; they know what luxury fibres are," she said.

Ramscar hopes the app will promote gay tourism in the city by guiding visitors to businesses where they can feel safe to shop and spend. He said he had been approached to bring the business model to Singapore.