Pink Economy

Pink is the new green.

Ten years ago, John Dorry and his partner, Bill Barnish, bought a transient, weekly rental motel called Sante Fe Landings, located off the water in the city of Wilton Manors. The purchase was supposed to be strictly an investment but a year later, Bill was approached to convert the property into a gay resort. What was once a boring motel turned into a sprawling, upscale all male retreat. The Cabanas was born.

Tapping into the gay market or the “pink economy” was the best decision Bill and John ever made. Gay and lesbian consumers comprise the majority of the DINK (Duel Income No Kids) segment of the population. For gay men, the median annual household income is $83,000 per year while lesbians average $80,000 per year. Their heterosexual counterparts have a median annual income of $46,326. This difference is the reason why national surveys by Harris Interactive and Witeck-Combs Communications predict gays and lesbians will represent an impressive $845 billion market by 2011. If you’re business caters to a niche market, this is the niche to do business with. That’s what John and Bill have discovered. Even in this floundering economy, their bookings and revenues have steadily increased.

While national chains such as the W and Marriott have launched national campaigns offering free night stays to bolster sales, The Cabanas have stuck to their tried and tested campaign of offering value and outstanding customer service. “Gay men are loyal to a great product,” John states, “As long as we provide them with something they want, they’ll come back.” Indeed The Cabanas has had a high rate of returning customers. This loyalty is reflected in national statistics that show gays and lesbians are 7 to10 times more likely to support brands that market to the gay and lesbian community or businesses that are gay owned and operated. Having a devoted consumer base has helped cushion The Cabanas and other gay establishments from the debilitating effects of the recession.

If you drive through Fort Lauderdale or Miami, you can see the tell tale signs of a weakened economy. Empty storefronts, abandoned buildings and houses, sparse restaurants and stores have become quite commonplace but in the city of Wilton Manors, the scene is contrastingly different. Wilton Manors just finished constructing a new City Hall while new nightclubs and luxury rentals have cropped up in the city. At night, revelers parade the street and overflow out of the bars. It’s not that Wilton Manors hasn’t been affected by the recession, it has, but with a large population of gay and lesbian residents and a constant stream of gay/lesbian tourists, the gay dollar has shielded the city much of the recession’s crushing blow.

No one is more thankful than the owners of The Cabanas. It’s the middle of the day and The Cabanas is bustling with activity. The staff is busy trimming palm trees and prepping rooms for the next wave of guests. Men in their early thirties to retirees with silver hair lounge on the poolside chairs. Some get up and mosey languidly to the hot tub. If there were any thoughts of the recession, it didn’t appear on their faces. While most Americans have reduced, if not eliminated, their travel budgets, gay consumers are still doling out discretionary dollars towards travel.

So is the gay and lesbian market recession proof? Perhaps not completely recession proof, but definitely recession resistant. “Certainly many members of the gay and lesbian community have been affected,” said David Paisley, senior projects manager at Community Marketing, a San Francisco-based research company specializes in the GLBT market. “But we have found that gays and lesbians tend to be overrepresented in careers such as education, healthcare and urban core professional careers. These jobs have been less affected by the recession than jobs like construction or manufacturing.”

Couple this improved job security with the fact that most gays and lesbians have less financial burdens than heterosexual families with kids, the gay dollar is a highly attractive commodity to retailers and marketers. But just because a business caters to the GLBT community doesn’t automatically mean prosperous returns. Notoriously persnickety, gay and lesbian consumers have high standards and those businesses that fail to meet these standards have not fared well. It’s the reason why the owners of The Cabanas have invested heavily over the ten years in modernizing and enhancing the property. They are the only gay resort with a full day spa. It was a gamble, but in the end, the investment was well worth it. This year, The Cabanas celebrates a tenth anniversary, giving testament that the power of the pink economy is growing stronger and stronger. Those who can tap into it, can reap the rewards.