The untapped power of the 'pink peso'
What we really wanted was a destination wedding, where our friends and family from the US and Manila would make their way to El Nido for our ceremony and a luxury vacation. I was in the middle of making arrangements with the top resort there when we were dropped like lepers the moment they learned we were a same-sex couple. Calls and e-mails were never returned, and even after my sister paid their sales office a visit and I told them of our high-profile guest list, it was apparent that they wanted none of our business after that very gay fact.
We decided to try Boracay's top luxury resort as a second choice but were met with the same result. It appeared that my two-bride wedding still had no place in the supposedly gay-friendly Philippines. We shrugged it off and decided that it was their loss.
Not wanting to deal with homophobia on our special day and in our own country, we decided to marry in New York City Hall instead. We took a $2.50 subway ride to the Marriage Bureau, and our wedding bill amounted only to a lunch for ten people. We had a wonderful time and saved at least $15,000.
The cost of discrimination
In the end, at $400+/night in those El Nido Rooms, the resort lost a revenue of at least $30,000 (P1.3 million), not including the $5,000 they quoted for our ceremony and banquets. Airlines and Manila hotels lost at least $40,000 (P1.7 million) on our guests coming from the US.
From a business standpoint, is that money that easily passed up just so one doesn't have to deal with LGBTQs? Our guests from New York and Manila (many of whom were in media, fashion and hospitality industries) were made aware of how we were discriminated by both high-end resorts and now know to avoid them. Unfortunately, our friends all concluded that the Philippines is simply not ready for even the tamest same-sex ceremony.
Am I naive enough to think it's because businesses don't know how much money they lose by turning away LGBT consumers?
My friends in Manila dine out often and frequent many retail and service establishments, spending their disposable income as they see fit. Most of my friends are gay but do not fit gay stereotypes, so they "look straight." For the most part, these businesses probably aren't even aware they have gay clientele. The ones who are actually straight are advocates for LGBTQ rights and would probably not cater to any brand or establishment known to discriminate members of our community.
One in twenty Metro Manila residents openly identifies themselves as LGBT. This means that there are at least 600,000 LGBT consumers in Metro Manila alone, not counting those who are not "out" or do not identify as LGBT but are in same-sex relationships or encounters. Even if a single company got just a tenth of these people to spend ten pesos on a product, P600,000 is a serious untapped market, even for a novice entrepreneur.
Businesses that discriminate the gay community believe they know who we are even if most of us fly under the radar and are often bunched with the rest of the consumer population. Even if local governments like Quezon City recognize how businesses thrive on the purchasing power of LGBTQs, companies do not recognize the power of the LGBT community and are not zeroing in on them as a niche market because they are afraid to compromise their bigger markets. Maybe it's time for businesses to realize that catering to their markets may even be better for their bottom line.
Purchasing power of the gay community
In the US, spending by the LGBTQ community in 2013 was estimated to be $830 billion. To show you how significant this is, companies have been targeting Asian-American consumers for decades and yet they still lag behind LGBTs in spending power at $713 billion in 2013.
For the longest time, there was a fear among US companies that they would be negatively affected if they catered to the LGBTQ community, but all that has disappeared now that being gay or supporting gays is considered fashionable, and support for same-sex marriage has become the popular ethical choice.
Nineteen states (44% of the US population) now allow same-sex marriage, and 55% of Americans support marriage equality. There was a same-sex mass wedding at the Grammys this year. Pop stars like Beyonce and Jay-Z are strong proponents for same-sex marriage, and Lady Gaga just dared Russia to arrest her for her support. Being a homophobe these days is synonymous with being a racist, at least in the US. It's not a surprise that cultures closely following the US are starting to open their minds to these ideas.
In the Philippines, not much attention is paid to LGBT consumers because businesses don't know just how much potential we have as spenders. While the rest of the world is changing, maybe it's about time to open the Philippines' marketing eyes, and for their own financial benefit.
According to the Financial Times, the 200-million strong LGBT population in Asia spends as much as $800 billion a year. If this number is accurate, it isn't such a far-fetched assumption that at least $1 billion of this could come from the Philippines. If the Philippine economy is even the tiniest bit reflective of its neighbors and former colonizers, there is definitely a reason to chase the "pink peso" if businesses and manufacturers want even a sliver of this chunk that is expected to reach a trillion dollars in the next few years.
Dual Income, No Kids (DINKs)
In China, LGBTQs are considered to have three times as much purchasing power than their heterosexual counterparts. Like consumers from the dual-income-no-kids (DINK) group, many LGBT consumers work in professional fields, aren't affected by costs of raising children, and are considered to have very high-end tastes in fashion and standard of living.
Family planning is also key for those same-sex couples who are raising children. The fact that same-sex couples do not have accidental pregnancies allows for well-defined child-rearing objectives, and well-planned maternity/paternity leaves - both of which result in the prioritization of financial security in LGBT families.
Filipino LGBT consumers are untapped spenders
Project Pink, a survey in the Philippines conducted by the Philippine Survey and Research Center (PSRC) in 2011, concluded that 70% of transgender respondents and 70% of gay male respondents are the main financial decision-makers in their families. This study found that many LGBT consumers are high earners who enjoy a significant degree of financial independence.
Project Pink also concluded that LGBT consumers spend more on products and services other than the basic necessities, and purchase personal care items nearly twice as often as their straight counterparts. Based on their surveys and focus groups, PSRC has profiled Filipino LGBT consumers as big impulse buyers who are more brand conscious than their straight counterparts.
These findings are consistent with the profile of LGBT consumers in the US. CNN Money reports that LGBT individuals earn more and owe less, and are better at managing their money. More than half of respondents in this US survey had bachelor's degrees, resulting in better jobs and more disposable income.
According to the California-based marketing firm CMI, "Gay men and lesbians travel more, own more homes and cars, spend more on electronics, and have the largest amount of disposable income of any niche market.”
Bottom line: money talks
Even if Philippine legislature is slow to consider the rights of the LGBT community, the private sector has a history of dictating where society is headed. With companies starting to provide benefits to same-sex couples, it is apparent that businesses are aware of what our contributions are to their companies and are beginning to show how much they value us.
Philippine businesses could use a few insights on gay and lesbian spending because there is an untapped market among individuals and couples who not only have a disposable income, but also possess brand loyalty and consumer consciousness.
Smart entrepreneurs know better than to turn away the LGBT community or to discriminate us in any way. Even if the Philippines is far from protecting its consumers from discrimination, money talks, and businesses do listen.
This is the message:
Gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender men and women spend a lot, and probably more than straight consumers do. We choose the places where we spend our money and we will choose to withhold our money from businesses known to discriminate against us. We are reputed to make consumer decisions based on whether a business or a company is fair to the LGBT community, even if a brand is costlier or less convenient.
Money is lost when gay people are turned away by businesses, schools, and companies. There is money to be gained by simply creating products that cater to the gay community and services that welcome everyone regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation. Whether our opponents like it or not, financial rewards await those who become the Philippines' pioneers in targeting the LGBTQ market.
Happy Pride Month! – Rappler.com
Do you think businesses have the right to refuse service to someone based on sexual orientation or gender identity? Let me know in the comments below.
Are you a gay-friendly business owner? Comment below and I will include you in my list of inclusive businesses!
Shakira Andrea Sison is a Palanca Award-winning essayist. She currently works in finance and spends her non-working hours growing her purchasing power in subway trains. She is a veterinarian by education and was managing a retail corporation in Manila before relocating to New York in 2002. Her column appears on Thursdays. Follow her on Twitter: @shakirasison and on Facebook.com/sisonshakira.