Fort Lauderdale            San Francisco

Fort Lauderdale...............................................San Francisco

San Francisco and Fort Lauderdale are pretty much the two gayest cities in America, so it was about time some airline flew directly between them. “A rainbow road, in the air,” is what Nicki Grossman, president of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau, called the newly established Virgin America and Jet Blue routes last week.

Local travel industry folks are also pretty excited about the new nonstop flights, which will likely bring in a highly desirable segment of the tourism population — gays and lesbians. “The LGBT market really loves traveling, dining out, and experiencing the city they’re visiting,” said Angela Jackson, director of public relations at the San Francisco Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Although Jackson said her bureau does not track gay tourism dollars, Grossman told the Miami Herald that gay travel in Fort Lauderdale is a billion-dollar industry. A consumer and product research company called Mintel identified the GLBT community as dominant spenders when it comes to travel.

“The GLBT community has a greater willingness to spend their dollars on travel than most mainstream consumers,” said Chris Haack, a Mintel analyst. Gays and lesbians are also more willing to travel in general, Mintel found, with more than 80 percent of LGBT travelers carrying current passports — compared with about 20 percent of mainstream consumers. Peak LGBT travel months are apparently in the fall (which dovetails with the introduction of the nonstop flights), whereas the summer is more popular among “mainstream” travelers. Since a far lower percentage of LGBT travelers have children, more of them hit sunny spots — like Fort Lauderdale — during the winter months.

Virgin America spokeswoman Abby Lunardini didn’t go so far as to say that the new direct flights were introduced for LGBT consumers, but she did emphasize Virgin’s support of the community. The San Francisco-based company has served as SF Pride’s official airline sponsor for the past two years.

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