When it comes to the LGBT market, think out of the box, said a panel at The NY Times Travel Show last weekend.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender travelers are in many ways just like any other customer. While sometimes their needs are different, often they just want the things every traveler wants: a destination wedding, an inter-generational trip, a little culture, a little fun.
When reaching out to them, highlight all the things that make you unique, not just the services targeted at the LGBT community, said vice president Theresa Belpulsi of Destination DC.
You don’t have to become an “LGBT travel agent” to reach them, agreed moderator LoAnn Halden of the International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association. Take a training program and “educate yourself about what’s going on in the world in terms of LGBT rights.” Then just incorporate an understanding of this customer base into what you already do.
Belmond’s Tom Alderink noted that where gay travelers once used to want someplace safe to go, today’s Millennials are traveling farther afield, and “in a much more integrated way.” Trending hot spots are around Machu Picchu and Cuzco, Myanmar, and South Africa, which have all been welcoming to the LGBT market. Destination weddings have been heading to Thailand, Brazil and Peru, Costa Rica, Cancun.
Belmond does make a serious effort to understand the unique needs of these travelers, as it does all its guests, Alderink said, down to the details of His and His bathrobes and two sets of male-sized slippers. “We say we understand that you want to be like everyone else, but we also know you as an individual.”
Another trend in recent months is the growth in transgender travel, Halden said, thanks to Caitlyn Jenner. Fort Lauderdale, for example, is doing a lot of marketing to this audience and a lot of diversity training, looking at specific issues like the availability of unisex restrooms.
“To be honest, none of us are really experts here,” she acknowledged. Transgender Vacations is a good resource for professionals looking for more information.
As a whole, travel professionals with LGBT—and especially B and T—clients should always call ahead, the panel suggested, and speak with the hotel personally to make sure that it is LGBT-friendly, that other guests understand that to be the case, and that their clients will feel safe.
“If you are not comfortable having this dialogue with the hotel, then you should not be in the LGBT market,” Halden said.