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Tours with gay clients in mind

Companies are expanding this niche market to include more options, such as family vacations or hiking, biking and rafting trips.

June 08, 2003|Jane Engle | Times Staff Writer

Tours designed for lesbians and gay men are getting wider distribution and expanding to new audiences.

In one key step, announced last week, AAA Travel of Northern California, Nevada and Utah has introduced a gay travel program.

In another step, Oakland-based Olivia Cruises & Resorts, one of the oldest lesbian tour operators in the U.S., is targeting families, mixed-gender groups and sports-minded travelers.

Although any AAA agent can book gay tours on request, Northern California appears to be the first in AAA's nationwide network of clubs to develop a gay marketing program, said AAA spokesman Justin McNaull.

The local affiliate is selling trips run by Olivia and by Atlantis Events, which claims to be the world's largest gay and lesbian tour operator, as well as packages to gay pride marches and film festivals. These trips, plus agents trained in gay travel, are listed on the chapter's Web site, www.csaa.com. (Click on "AAA Lesbian & Gay Travel" under "Travel.")

Meanwhile, Olivia, which has offered cruise vacations for lesbians since 1990, is hoping its new trips will help increase business, from 2,500 customers in 2002 to more than 5,000 this year, said Shannon Wentworth, director of marketing.

The new "Olivia Kids & Family Vacation," Oct. 25 to Nov. 1 at the Sandpiper Club Med Resort in Port St. Lucie, north of West Palm Beach, Fla., is aimed at lesbians and gay men with children. Activities will include in-line skating, swim lessons and a circus school.

Prices begin at $1,299 per person, based on double occupancy, for adults and $99 to $699 for children, depending on their age. Airfare is extra.

More than one in five U.S. households headed by lesbians and more than one in 20 headed by gay men may include children, according to estimates based on U.S. Census figures. Nonprofit groups such as the Family Pride Coalition in Washington, D.C., sponsor regular gatherings for such families.

"We've seen quite an increase of interest in gay-family vacations," said Thomas Roth, president of Community Marketing Inc. in San Francisco, a marketing and communications company for gay tourism. But the travel industry has had a tough time targeting gays with children, partly because it's difficult to identify them for marketing purposes.

In another initiative, Olivia is partnering with Backroads, a 24-year-old active tour company based in Berkeley, to offer 10 walking, biking, kayaking and rafting itineraries in the U.S. and abroad. Some are designated for lesbians, some for mixed groups -- defined as "lesbians and their gay and other friends and families who support them." Prices start at $2,198 per person, double occupancy, for seven-day trips.

For more information, call (800) 631-6277 or visit www.olivia.com.

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