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Marketing the Rainbow
The Kimpton Karma Rewards (previously “InTouch”) program claims to have 30,000 LGBT community members. Being part of the program “allows Kimpton to be supportive of the LGBT community right back. Kimpton donates to dozens of LGBT charities across North America every year.”
When signing for the Karma Program and checking the LGBT box, members will receive -
beside the standard rewards - invitations to exclusive LGBT parties in Kimpton cities,
free WiFi in most Kimpton hotels, and a quarterly LGBT newsletter full of special offers
and LGBT promotions.
A special offer was given as follows - by using Rate Code LGBT guests receive:
• 15% off the best available rate (Thurs - Sun)
• a $ 20 daily dining credit
• a 30% off any-in room spa service during their stay.
One of the hotel chains that seems most committed to both the LGBT guest as well as the community is Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants, a chain of boutique hotels.
"As a San Francisco-based hotel company (est. 1981) we've always had an LGBT-friendly attitude," says Andrew Freeman, the vice president of public relations. "But the active marketing approach we took began in 2002." Over the last 33 years, Kimpton has developed strong working relationships with pro-LGBT groups such as the Mautner Project, National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, The National Center for Lesbian Rights, The Transgender Law Center and The National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce.
In 2008 Kimpton became the only company where all hotels were members of the IGLTA and all hotels were TAG Approved.
In its 14th annual survey of gay tourists (2010), LGBT agency Community Marketing asked 4,700 gay and lesbian travelers to write-in the name of the most visible hotel chain to the gay and lesbian community. Kimpton received 13% of the votes, beating out Starwood’s W brand (11%), Hilton (9%), Hyatt (7%), and Marriott (7%). The survey results
were proof of Kimpton’s concerted effort to market itself as a gay-friendly brand. “Of all the hotel brands, Kimpton is the most active in the LGBT community,” says David Paisley of Community Marketing. “They have a website, they sponsor tons of events and they advertise in gay and lesbian media.”*
Note: the lead Kimpton takes does not seem impressive, but if you realize that they have less than 100 properties, whereas chains like Hilton and Marriot have thousands, you understand why this is a resounding win.
(Kimpton hotels are known for perks such as a complimentary wine hour, bikes, and yoga mats in each room: this may also have helped ;-) )
A section of their website has been dedicated to LGBT, where they start by saying “For over 30 years, LGBT guests as well as our employees have been an important part of the Kimpton story. Starting in San Francisco in the 1980's, Kimpton has always recognized the important role the gay and lesbian community has played in the company, and we have supported
community organizations right back with both cash and product donations. It wasn’t a strategy. It wasn’t a business plan. It was just the right thing to do.”
The Kimpton website features a blog that joyfully reports about developments and special events. By mid 2013, Kimpton also operated a website for gay weddings in their venues, including a special e-mail address: LGBTSupport@Kimptonhotels.com.
Note: strangely enough, unlike other supporters of “the cause” (like Orbitz) the main page of the website does not feature the words gay, lesbian or LGBT, nor does it have a search function (the URL www.kimptonhotels.com/LGBT does not exist anymore either, even though their own documents list it still in 2014), so you will have to know where to find the LGBT section, or use a deeplink to arrive there.
Kimpton supports the Red Ribbon Campaign, and states “we assist dozens of LGBT and HIV organizations every year and we will work with you on pricing whenever possible to ensure that we honor your community mission.” They are a sponsor of the National Lesbian and Gay Chamber of Commerce, Parents and Friends of Lesbian and Gays, National Lesbian and Gay Journalist Association, GALA Choruses and the Mautner Project. In addition they support the fundraising efforts of hundreds of nonprofits by giving silent auction gift certificates.
Their outreach is coordinated through KPRIDE (previously KGLEN), the Kimpton
Gay and Lesbian Employee Network. This committee of over 50 Kimpton employees
works together to advise company on personnel policies, build and support the
community outreach program, oversee the marketing program and represent Kimpton
at key LGBT events and trade shows.
In 2014, Kimpton became the national hotel sponsor for The Trevor Project, the leading national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBT youth ages 13-24. Kimpton’s engagement with The Trevor Project originated in 2013 through employees who had a passion for Trevor’s commitment to saving lives of
LGBT youth. Within the framework of the renewed co-operation, Kimpton will evolve its commitment to include a mix of marketing, social media, events and employee volunteer opportunities that will help The Trevor Project expand into new markets and raise funds to support its mission.
Kimpton’s guests can also become involved and help support The Trevor Project by using a designated rate code when booking their rooms directly through Kimpton. By entering in the code “TRPR” when booking, guests will receive 10 percent off of their total room cost and Kimpton will donate $5 for every room reserved using this code.
“Kimpton is proud of our LGBT employees and we were the very first hotel company to score 100% on the HRC Corporate Equality index (in 2004, and every year since) We certainly don’t do it for the applause, but it’s been gratifying to earn a 100 percent rating from HRC for the past decade, as well as recognition as Out Traveler’s Best Hotel Chain (2013).”
Says Alan Baer, Senior Vice President: “Tracking revenue from the LGBT market is difficult for all travel companies. Obviously, you cannot just ask every customer about their sexual orientation. We allow our Kimpton InTouch customer loyalty program members to self-identify their interests, including, but not limited to, gay and lesbian travel. Over 10,000 of our customers have shared that information with us, and those customers generate over USD 5 million in revenue annually. We know that that figure is just a small percentage of our actual revenue from the community, as many of our LGBT customers do not self-identify. However, developing a mechanism that proved ROI has been very helpful to justify expansion of the program.”
In 2011, Kimpton received Equality Forum’s 9th annual International Business Leadership Award, as well the third annual HRC Innovation Award for Workplace Equality “for its pioneering benefits programs, including transgender-inclusive, fully-insured employee health plans and grossing up employees' income to offset taxes from domestic partner benefits.”
In April 2015 Kimpton organized a “wedding giveaway” on the occasion of Arizona legalizing same-sex weddings. The $ 40,000 package (with the help of some community vendors and various donations) comprised of a free wedding, including wedding dresses, flowers, DJ, photographer, cinematographer, linens, wedding planner, transportation, the rehearsal dinner and a mini honeymoon. Contestants could submit a video of their love story. Over a 10-day period, 18,000 votes were cast. Winners Gwen Haywood and Rhonda Bailey of Phoenix were married in front 125 guests at Lustre Rooftop Garden at Hotel Palomar Phoenix.
After same-sex weddings became the law of the land mid-2015, Travel Weekly reported: "I just got off the phone with Kimpton, and they're getting overwhelmed with requests for same-sex marriages, at levels they'd never seen in the past," he said. To wit, Kimpton added a special "LGBT Events, Same-Sex Marriages and One-of-a-Kind Parties" page to its website.
Late 2014 saw the take-over of the Kimpton group - by then 59 hotels in 30 U.S. cities - by hospitality giant InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG), which operates more than 5,000 hotels across the world. IHG said it would retain the Kimpton brand within the U.S. and expand it globally. As a result of the acquisition, seven of Kimpton's nine hotels in San Francisco departed the brand in July 2015. Early 2016, the group announced the first of the promised expansions: to Amsterdam (a conversion of another property, Crowne Plaza).
The website proudly stated: "When our founder Bill Kimpton opened his first hotel in San Francisco, it was the European boutique properties he’d seen in his travels as an investment banker that he took inspiration from. Thirty-five years later, we’re bringing Kimpton back to where it all began - Europe. Hello, Amsterdam! Amsterdam isn’t afraid to think outside of the box, and neither is Kimpton. Not only do we both love to push the boundaries, but even more importantly, we share the same cultural values of diversity, inclusion and a deep appreciation of the unique."
* by 2015, Kimpton took the fifth place, still with 13% of the votes. They had been surpassed by Marriott (41%), Hilton (39%), Hyatt (19%) , and W (16%).