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On board with Outboard

Kim Marquis

SUMMIT COUNTY It’s discretionary income and propensity for travel make the gay and lesbian community the “cream puff” market for the travel industry, said John D’Alessandro, executive director of the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association.Keystone Resort will cash in this week on the economic potential with Outboard, a group of gay and lesbian snowboarders that arrived at the resort Thursday. The resort is expecting about 250 guests – 90 percent men – for the event. A quick search on the Internet reveals hundreds of travel Web sites devoted to serving gays and lesbians, who spend more time than the average American traveling and have more discretionary income to support the habit, according to a national study by Community Marketing Inc. The American gay and lesbian community represents a $54.1 billion travel market or an estimated 10 percent of the U.S. travel industry, according to the company’s research, which also found that between 2001 and 2003, 97 percent of the gay community took vacations, compared to a 64 percent national average.

The Community Marketing study showed that 76 percent of gay and lesbian community household incomes rank above the national average and 30 percent earn more than $100,000 a year.While gays have more discretionary income, discretionary time also ranks as an important factor, D’Alessandro said.”Families don’t have the time,” he said. “Time is a commodity and the gay and lesbian community has that, plus discretionary income.”The demographics are attractive to the tourism industry. ORBITZ.com and Travelocity both devote online sections to gay-friendly destinations, and national airlines, car rental companies and travel agencies also try to lure the group.Outboard is the world’s largest snowboarding event for gays and lesbians. It started 10 years ago as a learn-to-snowboard event that was loosely affiliated with a gay and lesbian skiing group based in Denver.

While gay ski weeks in Aspen, Lake Tahoe and resorts in Switzerland have put those areas on the map as gay-friendly, Outboard attracts a younger group of people that is interested as much in the sport as it is in partying.”All the other gay ski weeks tend to be slightly older and mostly skiers but Outboard is smaller and younger. Everyone knows each other and it’s more mellow,” said Matthew Link, editor in chief of The Out Traveler magazine. Link attended Outboard’s event in Steamboat Springs last season. This week marks the first time the event will be hosted at Keystone. It was held for seven years at Copper Mountain in the 1990s.Outboard has 3,500 members. One-third of them live in Colorado, and up to 50 percent of this year’s participants are expected to come from around the state.A friendly destination is important in attracting gay and lesbian travelers, D’Alessandro said, and plays a large role in whether they return.

“It used to be important that a place feel safe, but that’s changed,” he said. Now, gays and lesbians want to vacation in places that are welcoming and comfortable. “It means that when they check in at a hotel, they want to check in as a couple without one of them hiding by the information rack. It’s knowing they are accepted there as a gay or lesbian couple,” D’Alessandro said.Outboard event organizer Ryan Miller said that besides Keystone’s attractive bid, Outboard chose Keystone this year because the resort showed open enthusiasm in hosting the group.”Some resorts are more conservative than others,” Miller said. “You can’t be sure of what the viewpoints are – some owners may be uncomfortable with 200 guys in the hot tub not keeping 3 feet between each other.”The fact that Summit County doesn’t have much of a gay social scene did not deter Miller. Most ski resort don’t – and the men create their own, anyway.

“We’ll turn the club into a gay club for the night,” Miller said. “We create our own atmosphere.”Vail, Colorado


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