If the LGBTQ+ travel market was a country, it would be the fourth largest economy on earth. Eight-five percent of LGBTQ+ travelers have passports. Prior to the pandemic, LGBTQ+ travelers spent over $218 billion alone every year.
In other words, it’s a market the travel advisor community can’t afford to ignore.
“LGBTQ+ travelers are leading the return to our favorite destinations,” said Justin Barnette, head of marketing & communications, North America for South Africa Tourism at last week’s Travel Market Place East conference in Toronto. “Our market is robust. It’s diverse and it’s growing.”
In 2021, Gallup found that 7.1% of adults identify as LGBTQ+. Among Generation Z, which Barnette defined as travelers under 25 years of age, that number is higher, with some reports saying as high as one in four identify as being somewhere on the LGBTQ+ spectrum.
“As that continues to grow over the next few years, this is a real market to focus on for business opportunities,” Barnette said.
But, he added, serving LGBTQ+ travelers requires an understanding of their unique needs and wants.
“The thing we probably get asked most is: What do LGBTQ+ travelers want,” Barnette said.
First and foremost, LGBTQ+ travelers wants to feel safe, Barnette said, adding that’s really all every traveler wants.
“We want to feel welcome and we want to feel free to be ourselves,” he added.
But safety has varying meanings depending on the traveler. For LGBTQ+ travelers, visiting places where sexual orientation, and gender identity and expression are criminalized can have dire consequences.
“Our ability to show public displays of affection, share a hotel room bed and use social or dating apps can be affected,” Barnette said. And that’s in the best scenario in such a place.
Not sure how to determine which destinations are “safe” for your LGBTQ+ travelers? Barnette suggested looking at a destination’s attitude toward its own LGBTQ+ citizens. Is identifying as something other than heterosexual or cisgender illegal? Are people that do identify on the LGBTQ+ spectrum marginalized or subject to physical violence?
For help with making these determinations, travel advisors can use a resource like the Spartacus Gay Travel Index, which is published yearly. (Fun factoid: The top most LGBTQ+-friendly countries in 2021 were Canada, Malta, Portugal, Spain and Austria.)
LGBTQ+ travelers also need to feel that whoever they work with to plan travel has this primary need top of mind. “We want to work with travel advisors and tour operators that have carefully vetted the offerings that they are putting forth and recommending for their queer-friendliness,” Barnette said. “Get to know the products that you are introducing. Make sure that you are an expert on the nuances within that, so your traveler can make an informed decision.”
Beyond their personal safety, LGBTQ+ travelers want to connect to the people and places they’re visiting.
“We want to connect with locals. We want to find out their desires and special suggestions and not only about local queer history… we want their recommendations on where we can go to hear the best music, where we can find the best restaurants, where we can taste the most delicious wine,” Barnette said.
Finally, Barnette said, LGBTQ+ travelers want to work with businesses that include them in their marketing.
“We want to see ourselves reflected in your marketing materials,” he said, pointing out the LGBTQ+ community is diverse. One photo of two white men holding hands isn’t enough.
“LGBTQ+ travel is becoming more multicultural and multigenerational,” he said, pointing out that LGBTQ+ groups are expanding to include parents, children, siblings, even grandparents. They’re all sexual orientations, genders, sexes, races, ages, sizes, and with varying physical abilities.
“We are solo travelers and retired couples. We’re adventurers and partiers. We’re book clubs and golfers,” he added.
One thing that has remained mostly unchanged for the LGBTQ+ travel community? They seek higher-end experiences, focus on luxury over budget and prefer bucket list over standard vacations.
Travel advisors interested in working more with LGBTQ+ travelers need to commit themselves to continuing education, Barnette said offering these resources: