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Vacation spots prime for gay travel boom

Gay couple to wed
Michael Deschenes, left, and Cary Bass, who had church wedding and plan to become legally married, stand together at a celebration for the U. S. Supreme Court's rulings on Prop. 8 and DOMA in the Castro District in San Francisco, on Wednesday, June 26, 2013.Mathew Sumner / AP

Gay travel is surging -- and not just for Gay Pride Weekend. This week's marriage equality ruling is expected to fuel a gay honeymoon boom. Savvy travel operators are already figuring out how they can court the so-called pink dollar without turning away straight business.

"Obviously, there's more camaraderie with fellow guests" at a gay-friendly accommodation, said Ed Jones, a gay traveler and New York accountant. But it's more than that. "I've stayed at straight-owned B&Bs," said Jones, "and it's definitely not something that's always welcomed. When two guys check in, there's that surprise that clearly registers on people's faces."

Travel spots that have a reputation for not being gay-friendly risk missing out. One in four gay men and one in five lesbians say that an LGBT-friendly reputation is important in choosing a travel destination.

As the travel industry climbs out of the recession, gay travel is seen as a bright spot. Last year, gay men took an average of 4.7 leisure trips per year, and lesbians took an average of 4 trips, according to the 17th Annual LGBT Travel Survey by the market research firm CMI. That's a one trip increase for both groups. Meanwhile, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the typical American traveler takes only 1.62 leisure trips per year.

"The gay traveler is quite savvy and won't simply patronize a hotel that slaps on a rainbow sticker on their door or website," said John Clifford, a San Diego-based travel agent who specializes in LGBT travel. "It's important that there be a level of respect, sensitivity understanding, training and a sincere welcome environment." Cliffords steers his gay clients not towards specifically gay hotels or resorts but towards 4 and 5 star boutique and design hotel accommodations.

And the LGBT community isn't one size fits all either. "Men are going to go 'where the boys are'," said Merryn Johns, editor-in-chief of the lesbian magazine Curve. Lesbians prioritize safety. "We're women, and we travel as women first," said Johns.

Within days of the decision, some hotels had already unveiled new packages and promotion designed to celebrate the ruling, while also being inclusive to same-sex couples. The US Grant hotel in San Diego launched a $145 per person "At Last" wedding reception package designed to celebrate the Supreme Court's ruling, but available to both same and opposite sex partners.

In partnership with Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the largest LGBT equal rights advocacy organization, W Hotels made its "HRC Pride 365" package available across all its locations in the US and Canada. Besides the room, it includes triple starpoints, a one-year membership to the HRC, and a $10 donation to the HRC.

Even international destinations got in on the marketing peg. The Qualia Resort on Hamilton Island off the coast of Australia introduced a new seven night couples retreat package with one night free, "to celebrate the landmark Supreme Court decision."

The Marriott hotel chain went even further than marketing packages, filing amicus briefs in the the Supreme Court marriage equality cases demonstrating how DOMA hurts their business.

After all, pink or green, a dollar is a dollar.

"Equality tends to foster a sense of prosperity," said Johns. So among vacation spots and hotels that are still behind when it comes to accommodating the gay traveler, "Who really wants to be the holdout?"