This Valentine’s Day, Alibaba Group, the newly listed Chinese e-commerce giant founded by Jack Ma, is making it known that the company supports gay marriage. The tech company is running a promotional contest that would send 10 same-sex couples on expenses-paid trips to get married in the U.S. Alibaba hopes to get something out of the contest too: huge new business opportunities.
The event, called We Do, is being held by Alibaba subsidiary Taobao, an online marketplace also known for celebrating China’s unattached through a shopping blowout called Singles Day. Taobao is teaming up with local LGBT groups and Danlan, a website resource for LGBT news and affairs, to host the contest, in which 10 same-sex couples in China will travel to California to marry. The prize includes airfare, hotel accommodations, rings, a trip to a winery, photographers and legal processing fees for the marriage license, among other things.
In China, it is unusual for a company to publicly align itself with a social cause, especially one that is still controversial within the country. A statement by a Taobao representative expressed hope that the landmark event will “raise awareness and respect and understanding of gay people.”
At the same time, Taobao, and by extension Alibaba, are getting something in return. Catering to the LGBT community opens doors to consumer opportunities that are rarely capitalized on in the country. A report by TechCrunch points to research that found the LGBT community spends more on travel and vacation than the average Chinese person. According to the Shanghai Daily, the annual purchasing power of China’s LGBT community is estimated at $470 billion, with travel of high interest to the demographic. Community Marketing & Insights found that 23 percent of gay or bisexual men and 34 percent of lesbian or bisexual women had annually spent five or more days on travel or vacation, higher than the national average.
These statistics are of particular interest to Taobao, which is marketing travel tours to five countries where same-sex marriage is legal: the U.S., the Netherlands, Canada, France and New Zealand.
While same-sex marriages for foreigners are recognized under American law, as long as it takes places in one of the 36 states where it is legal, when winning couples return to China, their legal union still won’t be recognized by the Chinese government.