Marriott has been ramping up its marketing efforts targeting LGBT customers while also promoting its internal advocacy for the LGBT community.
On June 13, Marriott International hosted the first same-sex marriage ever officiated at the D.C. Capital Pride Parade, which capped off the 10-day Capital Pride festival celebrating LGBT culture and accomplishments.
Record breaking attendance topped 350,000 people for this year’s 40th anniversary event, with Marriott acting as official sponsor of the parade itself. Half a dozen other hospitality groups sponsored other components of Capital Pride at various levels.
The happily wedded groom and groom are George Carrancho and Sean Franklin, who got hitched by E!’s flamboyant Ross Mathews presiding over the nuptials. On the day of the wedding, same sex marriage wasn’t recognized as a legal partnership in Texas where the two men first met in 2007, but that of course changed last Friday following the landmark Supreme Court ruling protecting gay marriage rights in all 50 states.
As previously reported, Marriott launched its #LoveTravels marketing campaign in June last year with a photo and video series profiling same-sex couples and transgender individuals at various Marriott properties. Ex-NBA player Jason Collins, who was the first openly gay man in any of America’s four major sports leagues, and transgender model Geena Rocero were among the people originally highlighted in the campaign to emphasize how Marriott extends hospitality to everyone.
Today, the themes and content of the #LoveTravels videos at LoveTravelsWithMe.com have expanded to include other guest passions. The most recent video profiles fashion designer Angela Simmons at The Ritz-Carlton Washington, DC, who professes her love for creativity, design and travel. Nothing in the video intimates anything about her sexuality. Other videos on the #LoveTravels homepage show both heterosexual and same-sex couples professing their love for each other and different travel niche experiences.
Below the main video frame, there’s a slider where guests can upload photos relating to romance and travel, which have a significant percentage of imagery depicting same-sex couples.
“Marriott’s taken a pretty holistic or 360-degree approach to how we’re approaching LGBT issues, so it’s not just a marketing effort, but it also encompasses our public policies and policy advocacy,” says Thomas Maloney, director of government affairs at Marriott International. “I think 15 plus years ago at this point, it really started as a human resources effort to do right by our company’s employees, so I think we were early adopters.”
Apoorva Gandhi, VP of multicultural affairs at Marriott International, adds that if Marriott is going to promote its hospitality product to LGBT culture, then the company needs to make sure it is direct and prominent in its stance for inclusivity.
He says, “It’s been really important to us now as we start to market a little more overtly this way, that we really show how we do take these stands around equality.”
Marriott’s Support for LGBT Community
Both Maloney and Gandhi emphasized to Skift the various internal and industry-facing initiatives and acknowledgements that Marriott has developed and received in support of LGBT culture. First, Maloney says Marriott was one of the first hotel chains to offer equal same-sex domestic partner benefits nationwide to it employees beginning in 1999.
This year, Marriott earned a 100% score on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index, which recognizes domestic partner benefits and non-discrimination policies for LGBT associates, including health insurance covering transgender care and gender reassignment procedures. The Human Rights Campaign awarded Marriott a score of 90% on the Equality Index in 2012.
Likewise, Marriott’s “ONE” LGBT employee network directs initiatives related to diversity while supporting efforts in LGBT customer engagement and associate relations.
“For us not to take those stands would really be inauthentic, I think, to the community,” says Gandhi. “How could we work and welcome folks in our hotels if we didn’t let people know that we’re a place that believes in equality and a place that welcomes everyone, no matter who you are?”
With regard to the Marriott family’s well-publicized Mormon faith and ties to prominent conservatives like Mitt Romney, some people have wondered how Mormon senior executives at Marriott feel about their company sponsoring such a high profile gay marriage during one of the biggest LGBT events in the Western Hemisphere.
As to be expected, both Maloney and Gandhi said there haven’t been any challenges in that regard. Chairman Bill Marriott Jr. discussed the company’s separation of church and state in The Salt Lake Tribune back in 2008. He said, “I am very careful about separating my personal faith and beliefs from how we run our business.”
Mr. Marriott also reiterated that the hotel group didn’t donate any money to California’s Proposition 8 campaign in 2008 that successfully denied same-sex couples equal marriage rights, even though the Mormon church ponied up $22 million in support of the legislation. However, the times seem to be changing. The church sect in March this year said it’s okay for Mormons to support gay marriage.
“#LoveTravels is another way of showing the world that we are a company that brings everyone into our hotels, and not only from a business perspective, but also welcoming folks to come work for us, and working with different LGBT community groups,” says Gandhi. “We treat everyone equally so this month really wasn’t that much of a shift for us.”
Photo credit: TV celebrity Ross Mathews (center) officiated the wedding of George Carrancho (left) and Sean Franklin (right) during the Marriott-sponsored 2015 Capital Pride Parade in Washington D.C. this month. Marriott International