Networking Is Key to Tapping Gay Travel Market
by Dori Saltzman /

Patronage of businesses and destinations that are gay-friendly and visibly support gay rights is a strong trend in gay travel and a key factor in the travel choices of many gays and lesbians.

That’s just one of the characteristics that’s prevalent in the gay travel market. For agents who want to sell to this lucrative market, understanding the preferences of gay travelers and trends in gay travel is vital.

Gay and lesbian travel is a sizable and growing market. The annual economic impact of LGBT travelers (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) is estimated to be $65 billion in the U.S. alone, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.

What other prominent and emerging trends among U.S. gay travelers do agents need to understand? Travel Market Report asked John Tanzella of the International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association (IGLTA). Tanzella is president and CEO of the trade group.

The market: support generates support

More and more gay travelers are showing their support, through patronage, for destinations and businesses that are visibly gay-friendly, Tanzella said.

“The gay market is becoming very supportive of destinations that speak up outwardly in favor of gay rights. People want to go there and spend their money and support them.”

That makes New York state a hot ticket right now - New York recently legalized gay marriage - but there are many other popular destinations as well. “Canada has always been a strong destination for gay travel, because of its liberal policies and being open to gay travelers.”

Brazil is also growing in popularity, thanks to the country’s efforts to attract the gay market, Tanzella said.

Sales tip #1: Develop connections
The desire to “reward” support for gay rights is apparent in the choices gay travelers make about the companies they do business with, so travel sellers who want to work with gay travelers should get to know and support their local gay community.

“Attending local gay events is helpful and maybe exhibiting at the pride event in their city or a nearby city,” Tanzella recommended.

“Agents have to get out there and network and get to know the community before anyone is going to trust them with their travel.”

Sales tip #2: Be visible
For agents who don’t know where to find their local gay community, Tanzella recommended purchasing a listing on the International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association’s website, so they can be found by gay travelers.

Adding a section on your website that’s devoted to gay travelers, including links to gay tour operators, safety tips for gay travelers, etc., is another way mainstream agencies can show they are gay-friendly.

Benefits of membership
Of course Tanzella also recommended that agencies join the International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association and put a decal on their storefront window and an IGLTA logo on their website.

“The logo is very recognizable, with the rainbow flag. People will know they’re a member of a trade association for gay-friendly businesses.”

Travel preferences: cruising expands
Cruises, including both gay charter cruises and gay groups on mainstream cruises, are increasingly popular and a growing area for gay tourism, Tanzella told Travel Market Report. 

In addition to charters of large ocean-going cruise ships, gay charter companies are expanding into chartering small ships, such as Windstar's vessels. “That’s a relatively new space that’s definitely growing; more and more tour operators are getting into it.”

River cruises, mostly ship charters, are starting to gain traction, though growth is at a slower pace than for other forms of cruising, Tanzella said.

River cruise lines have been “a bit slow to market to the gay traveler,” Tanzella said. “It’s been more a [gay] tour operator buying out a whole cruise.”  Three or four river cruise companies did participate in a breakout session at IGLTA’s last convention, he noted.

All about family
Another trend that’s picking up speed is family travel for gay couples and their children. “Ten years ago family travel didn’t exist in the gay market,” Tanzella said. Now there are dedicated tour operators offering gay family vacations.

The needs of gay families don’t differ much from those of traditional families, but there is one clear difference. The “welcome-ness” factor is more important when gay families choose a vacation product or destination.

Destinations like Provincetown, Mass., that offer gay family weeks are particularly popular. Gay family cruise charters are also popular.

Seeking adventure
Mirroring the trend in mainstream travel, gay travelers increasingly are seeking out active adventure or off-the-beaten path travel. Tour experiences like climbing the pyramids, visiting Machu Picchu or going on safari in Africa are more popular with gay travelers than ever before.

Most gay adventure travel is done as group travel, Tanzella said.

International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association

Agents have to get out there and network and get to know the community before anyone is going to trust them with their travel.

John Tanzella, International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association