EDITORIAL UPDATE: Following publication of this article on Dec. 23, a number of EGO cruise website pages -- which we had linked to substantiating various points made -- appear to have been removed. For readers' background reference, Gay Market News has now included here in this article a number of screenshots showing the referred-to content, which were taken prior to its removal.
Planned 'Ego' Gay Cruise Fails To Sail Gay
Successfully establishing Out Now as an LGBT marketing agency in Australia two decades ago, and then taking it global, has taught me one very important lesson: what looks easy to others can often be fiendishly difficult to achieve in practice.
Marketing success that can appear effortless to outsiders usually has one bedrock ingredient - consistent, hard work.
I have also learned by observation that many of the worst kinds of failures in the area of marketing to gays and lesbians tend to happen when the organizers of such initiatives start to believe their own publicity.
That seems to have happened this past week when a much discussed 'first ever gay cruise in Latin America' - planned by organizers to sail with around 2,000 gay passengers failed to depart as planned - when sales of tickets to gay paying passengers topped "barely" 100 berths.
That level of sales could perhaps be described as evidence of a monumental marketing failure. Selling only 5% of projected estimates must be an extremely poor sales result in anybody's books.
But what can have gone so terribly wrong that doomed efforts to market staterooms on the MSC Opera as a gay cruise in Argentina?
The EGO cruise was heavily promoted by the organizers via PR on their own EGO website - (screenshot links also available here and here for reference) and also in extensive media coverage that the planned venture garnered in mainstream and LGBT media.
In reviewing the planned product for the EGO cruise, Out Now was quite amazed by how 'derivative' the planned venture appeared to be. Atlantis Events - a long established gay targeted cruise operator from the United States has been a successful business model, one which the organizers of the Buenos Aires cruise appeared willing to emulate closely.
Entertainment, party themes and many other aspects of the planned offering were very similar indeed to the much more established offerings of the Atlantis operation.
There are many in the world of gay marketing who argue that the standard fare of gay cruises these past years has become too repetitive and lacking in innovation. The EGO venture - although new to the region - seemed determined to tread a well-worn product path opened up by Atlantis, RSVP - and similar gay targeted cruises.
The event had three listed organisers - one of whom GNetwork360 was described as "Gay marketing agency" on the EGO cruise's own website (as seen in this screenshot - included here for reference).
Out Now previously had to distance itself from the operations of GNetwork360 - due to their poor business practices.
It would probably be fair to say that if one were to judge the results of this venture on the very poor sales results achieved, then the marketing applied to achieve such poor sales could only be described as "poor" - at best.
José María Jaroslavsky, director of Thesys - speaking to the BBC - confirmed the poor sales of "barely 100 tickets" out of a projected 2,000 which his company had expected would be sold and, according to BBC reporting, he "recognized that the failure of his project could have been due in part to failures in the promotion or marketing of the event." ("Jaroslavsky reconoció que el fracaso de su proyecto pudo haberse debido en parte a fallas en la promoción o el mercadeo del evento.")
Major financial loss reported
BBC World is reporting that the loss caused by the failure of the EGO gay cruise to sell sufficient tickets may exceed USD$1 million.
Considering the venture reportedly enjoyed the backing of the Argentina Ministry of Tourism, apparently channeled through an outfit calling itself the 'Argentina Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce' (Camara de Comercio Gay Lesbica de Argentina), this alleged loss is even more perturbing. ("Con el auspicio de la Cámara de Comercio Gay Lésbica de Argentina, y el apoyo del Ministerio de Turismo de la Nación... todo indica que EGO será un exito y un proyecto innovador en el sector turístico regional que llegó para quedarse.")
Such a relationship - between private businessmen who stand to gain a profit should the venture succeed, and a not-for-profit 'association' whose remit is supposed to be about helping LGBT entrepreneurs and business people establish successful business ventures - perhaps starts to seem rather 'close' if government funds are allegedly involved. We have not yet been able to independently confirm these details, but several sources in Argentina told Gay Market News that there have previously been a number of concerns expressed - allegedly about some aspects of the 'Chamber's' practices - by those involved in gay and lesbian business development in Argentina.
Leonardo Freidemberg of la Federación Argentina de Lesbianas, Gays, Bisexuales y Trans (FALGBT) believes the failure of the EGO gay cruise venture was primarily down to poor economic issues. "No es un problema cultural, seguramente el fracaso de ese proyecto tuvo que ver con cuestiones económicas..." - Leonardo Freidemberg, que coordina asuntos de turismo dentro de la Federación Argentina de Lesbianas, Gays, Bisexuales y Trans (FALGBT).
Lessons to be learned
Whatever the cause of the failure of the planned EGO 'first ever gay cruise in Latin America' to set sail, the venture's failure has so far attracted much less media attention than the original press announcements made by the organisers back in February 2011.
It seems clear that this case, once again, affirms to marketers that if you choose to believe your own company's PR too often - and fail to put in the hard work that true marketing success demands - you too may find yourself sunk.
Such a shame for the region that what should have been a great new LGBT travel venture appears - based on sales results - to have been so very poorly marketed.
Argentina is a great country that deserves so much better.
Ian Johnson is the Founder and CEO of Out Now Global. Out Now has two decades of experience in understanding and meeting the needs of LGBT customers around the world.
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