Airlines within the western world have long been significant employers and proponents of the LGBT communities. Yet recently, in both Australia and the United States, the movement to make civil marriage open to all couples has seen a steep change in public support from the airline industry. Some airlines’ activity is around increasing the work they do to support existing and potential LGBT staff in order to become an employer of choice.
In most markets, there is not much competition between airlines – except perhaps on certain routes – but the national carrier in most markets is often the airline of choice, especially when a loyalty program is in place. However, in other markets competition is fierce and airlines need to profile themselves. Profiling is also done by airline companies in less competitive market to create a branding, a certain image.
Profiling often means market segmentation, so LGBT marketing is one option to be considered.
There are no gay airlines, car rental companies, or rail services… What makes a transportation supplier successful in the gay market is more about earning brand loyalty than about offering a “gay product.” In this case, becoming involved in gay community fundraisers and events, networking with tour operators serving the gay market, and advertising in popular travel industry and gay travel resources are key to increasing market share.
And it is not just the holiday traveller that is targeted. The travel industry has long viewed frequent fliers as fitting a certain stereotype: hard-charging men who touch down in a city, stay only as long as necessary to get their job done and leave quickly. But as the ranks of frequent fliers grow more diverse, travel companies are catering more to the needs and wants of women, as well as minorities and the more narrow niche of gay travellers.
After 9/11 the travel industry hit a slump, but gay events were not cancelled and they kept travelling. An eye-opener for the airline companies… Here are some players who have engaged in Marketing the Rainbow in one way or another.
- American Airlines: the first airline to choose for LGBT marketing in 1994, after the “pillows and blankets incident”.
- JetBlue: from Family Pooling, via a Florida playground to the New York City Gay Men’s Chorus.
- Icelandair: flies you to the city with the world’s biggest, small gay pride.
- KLM: savior of the Gay Games Amsterdam.
- United Airlines: an early start, some hiccups, and a broad spectrum of LGBT collaborations and sponsorships.
- WOW air: MOM, DAD, SON, SIS, BRO, KID and GAY
- U.S. Airways
- Alaska Airlines
- Iceland Express
- Air New Zealand
- LAN Airlines
- TAM Brazilian Airlines