Meet the gay American.
He’s well travelled, well educated and wealthy.
And he’s looking to spend some of that $100,000-plus yearly salary travelling to new places.
Enter Stephen Dunbar-Edge.
As owner and operator of the newly launched Yukon Pride Adventure Tours, he’s working hard to make sure some of those dollars land in the territory.
The cutting-edge, Whitehorse-based company plans adventure and culture tour packages geared toward gays and lesbians.
Summer tours range from paddling the Yukon River to partying at the Dawson City Music Festival to hiking the mountains in Kluane.
In the winter, tours offer adventurers the chance to mush sled dogs and suntan in “snow lounger” chairs carved out of the snowpack.
Tours run four to 15 days and prices range from $1,500 to $5,000 — including accommodations and meals.
Dunbar-Edge plans packages using tour operators, hotels, B&Bs and restaurants that are gay- and lesbian-friendly to give his customers a customized, unique experience, he said.
Right now Dunbar-Edge is focused on attracting the largest market with the deepest pockets — the Americans.
The US gay and lesbian travel industry is estimated to be worth $65 billion.
And it’s a ready market with magazines and websites and well-attended trade shows already established.
He spent April manning his booth at travel trade shows in Los Angeles, Seattle, New York and Boston that attract thousands of tourists daily.
Dunbar-Edge was most popular in New York, where he bagged the most interactive and dynamic booth award.
What was in his booth?
“Me and the Yukon,” he said with a laugh. “What I had were true stories of the Yukon and what you can do here — stories of our rivers, our culture and arts community, pictures of the northern lights and Kluane Park.
“I would tell people that I was from Whitehorse, Yukon, and they’d look at me and say, ‘Even your name sounds exotic.’”
Although he says the Yukon is an “easy sell,” it helps to know your market.
Dunbar-Edge realized the importance of catering to it early.
When he stared out at the LA trade show, he was marketing his wilderness tours as “soft adventure,” which means rafting and hiking, but not scaling mountains or jumping from planes.
“Within 20 minutes some of the more expressive men were saying ‘Oh honey, I’m not looking for soft adventure, I’m looking for hard adventure,’” Dunbar-Edge said with a laugh.
“Of course, the obvious preference for a gay man would be a hard-adventure trip, but they have a different view on what that would be.”
Now he calls it “eco-adventure.”
For a tourism company marketing is everything, so Dunbar-Edge spent time getting to know the gay American traveller.
And what he found looks good.
They’re well travelled — while just 23 per cent of Americans hold valid passports, the number climbs to 84 per cent in the gay and lesbian population.
“They’re the type of customers who want to grow from their travel experience — learn a skill or take something back,” said Dunbar-Edge.
“The more I focus on that when I’m developing my tours, the better my response is.”
They also see price differently than the average traveller; they want value for their dollar, but are looking for a high-end product, said Dunbar-Edge.
“They’ll travel first-class and perceive they got value on the travel if they got a discount on the ticket.”
Often with gay and lesbian dollar, where it’s spent makes a difference.
“This market loves to travel, but they love to go where they’re invited,” said Dunbar-Edge.
And that’s the Yukon.
All of the tours are Yukon based, although some may end in Alaska.
The territory trumps its US neighbour for two major reasons — first, it has a much smaller population and second, it has a gay-friendly political climate.
“Alaska has laws in place that actually discriminate against gay and lesbian people. They have the defensive marriage act and they have no same-sex protections whatsoever.
“Why would anybody want to support a region that does that?” he said.
“Generally, Whitehorse is a pretty accepting place, but there are some bars I wouldn’t even send a straight couple into.”
All tours start with a jaunt around Whitehorse to see sights like the Yukon Wildlife Preserve, the fish ladder and Miles Canyon.
With Dunbar-Edge as guide, tourists will hear stories of gay and lesbian people who have shaped the Yukon’s history.
Then he’ll hand the tourists to a local tour operator for the “exotic part” of the trip, like river rafting or backpacking.
When the tourists finish, he’ll meet them again and add enhancements like having a lesbian botanist explain local plant life or a gay artist talk about wilderness art.
He came up with the business idea while honeymooning in San Francisco with his partner.
He happened in to a gay travel trade show and saw the opportunities for the territory spread out before him.
“I am pleased that a lot of my gut intuition has come to fruition,” said Dunbar-Edge.
He opened officially in October fuelled by tour-operator funding from the Yukon’s Tourism Co-operative Marketing Fund.
Today his website www.yukonpride.com is averaging 100 hits a day, and he’s working on a marketing film that will screen on gay and lesbian networks around the globe.
He already has three tours lined up for this summer, a number that far exceeded his expectations for the first year.
“Now if everyone could just will a really good summer and for the sun to come out,” he added with a laugh.