Alibaba marketplace Taobao will celebrate Valentine’s Day by sending gay couples to the U.S. and other countries where same-sex marriage is legal. To be sure, the event, We Do, is a publicity ploy like Alibaba’s recently announced drone pilot program. We Do, however, is much more notable because it is unusual for a Chinese company to publicly support gay rights.
Taobao, China’s largest online marketplace by far, will team up with Danlan, a gay-focused website, as well as advocacy groups including Beijing LGBT Center and PFLAG China, for We Do. Public votes will narrow down the 20 couples listed on We Do’s site to ten, who will receive a free trip to California, one of the states in the U.S. where same-sex marriage is legal.
In a statement, a Taobao representative stated that this is the first time it has hosted such an event and that it “hopes to raise awareness and respect and understanding of gay people.” The marketplace said it will continue to host other LGBT-focused activites.
The event also gives Taobao a chance to tap into the spending power of LGBT consumers in China.
For example, the We Do website features bedding made by textile manufacturer Bliss, the event’s sponsor. Taobao is also marketing tour packages to five countries (the U.S., the Netherlands, Canada, France, and New Zealand) that recognize same-sex marriage.
Last August, research group Community Marketing and Insights found that 23 percent of gay or bisexual men and 34 percent of lesbian or bisexual women had gone on a vacation of five nights or more in the past twelve months, which it says is higher than the national average. Taobao is not the first Chinese company to market vacations to gay people. Travel agencies like China Star have launched LGBT-focused programs, including a trip to San Francisco Pride.
Furthermore, Blued, China’s leading gay dating app and another We Do partner, secured a $30 million Series B last November, in another sign that the LGBT community is gaining more recognition.
Like their counterparts in other countries, however, gay people in China still cope with many personal and professional challenges. For one thing, couple that gets married abroad in a country where same-sex marriage is legal won’t have their union recognized by China. Many also face workplace discrimination and choose to keep their sexual orientation a secret.
Arguably, it’s much easier for Alibaba, a company with a current market cap of $217.4 billion and an 80 percent share of China’s e-commerce market, to come out in support of gay rights than smaller businesses. Detractors might call We Do cynical, with its shilling of tour packages and bed sheets, but it’s still a step in the right direction.