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Some sites zoom in on the lucrative gay tourism market

Special to The Times

GAY and lesbian Americans are a traveling bunch, piquing the interest of some websites that view them as a lucrative niche market.

Nearly 90% of gays and lesbians said they had traveled in the U.S. in the last 12 months, according to a survey conducted between October and March. The survey by Harris Interactive, a Rochester, N.Y.-based research company, was done for the National Gay Newspaper Guild. Gays and lesbians were twice as likely as non-gays to have traveled outside the U.S. within the last three years.

Of Expedia, Orbitz and Travelocity, the big three online agencies, Travelocity and Orbitz have been most visible in courting this market.

“We’re really just getting started making our presence louder and prouder,” said Bryan Saltzburg, Travelocity vice president of packaging, cruise and travel extras.

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Travelocity, which has ramped up its presence in the last year, is an official sponsor of gay pride festivals, advertises on PlanetOut.com’s gay and lesbian travel guide pages and has a customer support phone line staffed by representatives specially trained to handle the needs and concerns of gay and lesbian travelers.

Travelocity and Orbitz have “Gay and Lesbian Travel” sections on their websites with links to popular destinations, upcoming gay and lesbian events around the world and gay-friendly hotels.

Not all online travel companies embrace gay and lesbian travelers.

Craig Trentecosta, who owns the St. Philip Apartments in the French Quarter of New Orleans, started advertising online about two years with VRBO.com, a vacation home rental website. He included the wording “gay/lesbian family friendly” in his ad for more than a year, he said.

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In November, he said, he received an e-mail from VRBO saying that the phrase “gay/lesbian family friendly environment” would be removed.

Trentecosta tried such wording as “alternative lifestyle friendly” or “we fly the rainbow flag” and “regardless of sexual orientation,” all of which were deleted from his listing, he said.

In April, Trentecosta’s listing was deleted entirely from the site.

Though he lists his property with Purple Roofs (www.purpleroofs.com), a website that features gay-owned or gay-friendly vacation home rentals, and other sites, “the biggest response we got was from VRBO, which tells me there are an awful lot of gays and lesbians shopping on VRBO,” Trentecosta said.

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David Clouse, president of VRBO, declined to respond to questions about the site’s acceptable-content policy.

Trentecosta said he received an e-mail from Clouse that said, “This is not a business issue.... This is a religious issue. I believe that it is wrong to be forced to promote an activity which is totally outside my belief system.”

When asked by The Times, Clouse would not confirm that the e-mail was from him.

But Clouse said in an e-mail to The Times that “VRBO.com has many gay and lesbian advertisers and has never removed any listing due to the sexual orientation of the advertiser.”

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That is not satisfactory to some.

“Gay and lesbian travelers need to seek out the websites ... that are looking for our business and put the collective financial strength of our community not just where it’s welcomed but to where it’s encouraged to visit,” said Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, a national gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C.

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Contact James Gilden at www.theinternettraveler.com.

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