Aqua-Aston Hospitality Talks LGBTQ Marketing

Aqua-Aston Hospitality plays an active role in supporting the LGBTQ community. (Photo by Paul Heney)

Aqua-Aston Hospitality (AAH) has a variety of hotel properties and condominiums in warm vacation destinations: Oahu, Kauai, Maui, the Big Island, Orlando, and Costa Rica.

The company has also played an active role in supporting the LGBTQ community by including messaging of inclusiveness and acceptance of diversity into all of its marketing materials, brand messaging, special packages and exclusive deals.

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Additionally, AAH is approved by the Travel Advocacy Group (TAG), which recognizes hotels with LGBT-friendly policies and services and is a member of the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association (IGLTA), supporting community events including Gay Pride Festival, the Rainbow Film Festival, Equality Hawaii, GLAAD and the Hawaii Conference on LGBT Tourism & Hospitality.

We recently spoke with Ed Skapinok, senior vice president of sales, marketing and revenue at Aqua-Aston Hospitality about the company’s inclusive culture and outlook. Skapinok has more than 30 years in hospitality with expertise spanning global operators and independent properties. Prior to joining AAH early last year, he spent six years as vice president of sales and marketing at Hostmark Hospitality Group in Schaumburg, Ill., overseeing a portfolio of 50 full- and select-service hotels, resorts, restaurants, and spas. He currently serves as chairman on the sales advisory board for prominent hotel industry organization, Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International.

TP: Your brand has some great messages of inclusivity on its website. How important is the LGBTQ traveler to Aqua-Aston Hospitality, and why?

ES: Our Corporate Social Responsibility promise upholds our commitment to doing good for the Hawaii community by advocating for our host culture and values of tolerance, equality, and diversity. Aqua-Aston Hospitality offers hotels for all types of travelers and preferences. As a long-time supporter of the LGBTQ community, we market to the community with the same drive and fervor as we would for any other community that our guests are a part of.

TP: Do you do any specific marketing to queer travelers? Where and how? Have you put together any special package deals aimed toward this market?

ES: The messaging of inclusiveness and acceptance of diversity is reiterated in all our marketing materials, brand messaging, special packages and exclusive discounts, branded content and call-to-action initiatives. To further promote our hotels as an LGBTQ-friendly brand, Aqua-Aston offers packages that specifically celebrate the community. Examples of current and past packages include “Out and Proud” and “Free to Be” in celebration of marriage equality, which was legalized in Hawaii in 2014.

We focus on pushing out messaging and ads that reflect overall inclusivity and avoid explicitly gay markers or signals. Our strategy remains consistent with promotional materials in both mainstream and gay media.

TP: How does Aqua-Aston train guest-facing employees to understand the needs of LGBTQ guests?

ES: Internally, Aqua-Aston Hospitality ensures that a culture of inclusivity remains a staple of the company’s foundation and is upheld across the entire organization, including regular internal LGBTQ sensitivity trainings. Implementing these types of employee trainings, combined with a proactive presence within the LGBTQ community, has positioned Aqua-Aston as a best-in-class employer.

TP: With same-sex marriage being legal in all 50 states, there’s been an expectation of an uptick for weddings and honeymoons in Hawaii for this traveler segment. What have you seen at your properties there?

ES: After Hawaii legalized marriage equality in 2014, the state saw an incredible 408% rise in the number of same-sex marriages. Most recently in 2017, it was reported that approximately 7.8% of all marriages in Hawaii were same-sex. Aqua-Aston properties remain sought-after destinations for weddings, honeymoons and anniversary celebrations, offering unique packages including the “Rainbow Romance” honeymoon package, that cater to same-sex couples.

TP: What mistakes do you think other hotel chains or tourism companies make when marketing to LGBTQ travelers?

ES: The hotel brands and tourism companies that do not make a concerted, dedicated effort to cater to the LGBTQ community of travelers and promote acceptance of all to these destinations, are at a disadvantage. The Millennial generation of travelers — who continue to influence key travel trends — have grown up with LGBTQ equality, tolerance and acceptance of diversity, and expect these values to translate over into the travel and hospitality industries.

TP: Have any of your properties worked with any local LGBTQ organizations in any interesting ways?

ES: In addition to traditional marketing advertisements and unique hotel stay packages celebrating the LGBTQ community, new marriages, unions and honeymoons, Aqua-Aston Hospitality plays an active role in supporting local and international associations and events. We support community events including Gay Pride Festival, the Rainbow Film Festival, Equality Hawaii, GLAAD and the Hawaii Conference on LGBTQ Tourism & Hospitality, among others. We even hosted Hawaii’s first LGBTQ Tourism & Hospitality Symposium in 2015.

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