Orbitz to Market to Gays, Lesbians in PlanetOut Deal

Online travel site Orbitz is targeting gay and lesbian travelers through a new partnership with PlanetOut Partners.

The yearlong agreement with Chicago-based Orbitz, which has backing from many of the leading air carriers, will see PlanetOut Partners’ Gay.com network naming Orbitz as its exclusive travel booking engine.

As a result, Orbitz’ engine will power Gay.com and gay- and lesbian-focused vacation site OutandAbout.com. Additionally, the two sites will run ads promoting both the travel site and Orbitz’ “Win Planet Earth” sweepstakes, which offers a business-class trip for two to four destinations on three continents. The promotion runs through May 26.

Fun, wacky and overtly gay-themed, the Orbitz ads running on the sites mark a distinct change from most gay- and lesbian-targeted advertising, which often couch their pitches to the community with vague references.

Instead, one ad for the “Win Planet Earth” contest features a grinning drag queen, with the copy: “There’s a queen of England. A queen of Denmark. A queen of Lesotho. Four queens of Bhutan. But why settle for one country, when you could be queen of planet earth?”

Other ad in the effort feature copy like: “Go where the boys are!” “Flights. Cars. Hotels. Vacations. Diverse options for a diverse world” and “The Orbitz difference: most low fares. most Web-only fares. It’s good to be different.”

Additionally, the deal entails the creation of a co-branded site that will feature content supplied by PlanetOut Partners, and which will be promoted across Gay.com.

Little is being disclosed of the deal’s financial specifics. Orbitz paid PlanetOut Partners a sum upfront and will also pay based on performance — such as through commissions on air, car and hotel reservations booked through Gay.com and OutandAbout.com.

Orbitz’s efforts to target Gay.com’s 5.5 million monthly visitors follow a trend of efforts by travel-related advertisers to reach the gay- and lesbian- community, members of which skew toward the affluent, and tend to travel frequently.

“We are excited to be working with Gay.com to actively reach out to the gay community in a bold and refreshing way,” said Orbitz Chief Marketing Officer Mike Sands. “The gay community is important to Orbitz, and we’re pleased to be the first online travel company to actively provide our selection of Web fares from more than 35 airlines, our exceptional customer service and the travel options gays and lesbians are seeking today.”

Added PlanetOut Vice President of Sales John D’Alessandro, “Orbitz is coming at this in an incredibly refreshing way. They’re throwing very gay-specific and fun creative at the community, and they’re already seeing that when they do simple tests of standard creative versus more gay-friendly creative, they’re benefiting.”

Meanwhile, the deal serves to fill in some holes left by a reduction in the marketing budget of an earlier Gay.com partner, U.S. Airways , which is now flirting with bankruptcy.

In August, following PlanetOut Partners’s acquisition of Gay.com, the publisher signed an advertising and booking engine agreement for both Gay.com and PlanetOut.com with the air carrier, extending a deal that U.S. Airways previously had with each.

But amid increasing financial difficulties, U.S. Airways reduced its spending on the site, following a renewal of the deal in February. Now, the carrier continues to advertise with ads on PlanetOut.com and by powering the site’s booking engine.

“With the financial situation that is going on at the airlines, their budgets got cut,” said D’Alessandro, who added that he convinced U.S. Airways to stay on as an advertiser on PlanetOut.com, while “utilizing the goodwill that [they’ve] created on the Gay.com site” via bookings on Orbitz, in which U.S. Airways is a partner.

“It’s an opportunity for them to benefit [by] having Orbitz working with them in an indirect way, because of the fact that they are considered a very gay- and lesbian- friendly airline, from their involvement in the past,” D’Alessandro said.

U.S. Airways and Orbitz aren’t the only travel companies looking to cash in by marketing direct to the lesbian and gay community online, however. In addition to Orbitz and U.S. Airways, American Airlines currently is a major advertiser on Gay.com, and the publisher has also done deals with several of the other carriers in the past.

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