Out of the red, into the pink – gay dollars really stack up

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Two Sydney-based gay South­landers promote Queenstown in the lucrative niche of “pink dollar” gay spending.

Mike Sanford and his business and life partner, menswear designer Craig Lawson – “we’re a couple”, founded Gay Ski Week six years ago. This and their website Gay Queenstown have passed breakeven and will be joined by a new annual event, Summer Camp NZ, each January from 2009.

They plan further minor events to bulk out the annual season.

“From a financial point of view, Gay Ski Week has just started to come right,” Sanford said.

Summer Camp will include barbecues, pool parties, a “cowboy dinner”, lake cruise and adventure attractions, with headquarters at a hotel. “Camp” here doesn’t refer to sleeping in tents or huts.

Sanford, a former Queenstown resident, reports bookings are going “really well”.

Gay spending is big business internationally. In marketing speak, gays tend to be DINKs – double income, no kids. They usually have above-average disposable income. Even when they earn less, they spend more on tourism, among other things. Their spending should fall less in economic downturns.

A Wikipedia article estimates the overall British gay market, for example, is worth about $NZ16 billion a year.

Queenstown’s Gay Ski Week – held in the first week of September – attracted 110-120 people in its first year. This year it attracted at least 600, Sanford told BizScene.

“We haven’t even scratched the surface of the potential it’s got for tourism.”

Destination Queenstown has helped but Tourism NZ hasn’t grasped the potential of the market, he argues. The pair received a one-off $10,000 grant for their second Gay Ski Week.

Sanford and Lawson plan gay activities for Arrowtown and Wanaka, initially under the Gay Queenstown umbrella.

They feel they’ve made Australian gays aware of Queenstown and will now focus marketing on America, Britain and Europe. They advertise in gay magazines and newspapers. Americans already increasingly show up at the ski week.

Sanford argues the pair’s marketing helps Queenstown, even when gays don’t immediately visit.

“They put it on their radar – ‘oh Queenstown, it’s gay friendly, I must remember that’.”

Queenstowners, a high proportion of whom travel, tend to accept gay visitors, he says. An increasing number of non-gays attend Gay Ski Week social functions.

Of gay spending patterns, Sanford says: “Some work in full-time jobs where they are slaves to the work, and when they do take a break they like to spoil themselves. They certainly do more adventure activities than your average Joe Tourist.”

Even local gays who take a day off in the ski week tend not to limit themselves to one adventure attraction but ride in a jetboat, bungy jump and skydive.

Sanford and Lawson, who met in Queenstown, hope to make the resort their home again in about five years.
Lawson, who has a design diploma, displays his menswear at craiglawsoncollections.com.

The pair’s website, gayqueenstown.com, plays on the resort’s name and on some of its streets, such as Camp and Man. “You’ll feel right at home,” it says.

The site also promotes civil unions, not available in Australia, but potentially good business for Queenstown celebrants.