The annual worldwide travel spend of LGBTQ+ travelers is over $218 billion (pre-pandemic), according to Out Now. That’s a big market, and it’s currently underserved. But selling LGBTQ+ tourism takes some finesse. Here’s a good place to start to understand this specialized market…
What do LGBTQ+ travelers want?
At the most common denominator, LGBTQ+ travelers want the same thing that all travelers want: To feel safe and welcomed while exploring the world.
Jonathan Alder, CEO and travel planner at Jonathan's Travels, and a specialist in LGBTQ+ tourism, explained: “The most important experience for LGBTQ+ travelers is the ability to be themselves while feeling safe and secure. We want to have fun and experience the world just as everyone does. There is always the added bit of exploring the local LGBTQ+ community as well. Having the right guides and locals to show them their countries is the key to a successful trip.”
It is important for travel advisors to be able to connect with locals in established LGBTQ+ communities to gain valuable insights on local queer history and cultural attitudes, as well as recommendations for all the best restaurants, nightlife, and entertainment options.
But here’s where it can be a bit tricky. “Within this niche, there is a lot of diversity. We want to be acknowledged, but we don’t want to be singled out. Not everyone wants to put their gay foot forward,” noted Aurelio Giordano, of Ace World Travel. “And not everyone wants to go to the gay bars. But they still want to engage in something that feels familiar, like the LGBTQ-themed Oscar Wilde Tours in Italy, Greece, Dublin, New York, or Boston.
“A lot of consciousness and awareness needs to come into play when serving this community,” Giordano added. “The travel industry views LGBTQ+, community predominantly through the lens of their sexual orientation or gender identity. But it’s wanderlust that causes them to travel, not being gay or bi or trans. Tourism boards need to reshape and understand that this community is just like everyone else in that they want to have the most authentic travel experiences.”
Where to send LGBTQ+ travelers
What makes a destination LGBTQ+ friendly? The bottom line is “being treated with respect and consideration,” said Annette Nero Stellhorn, VTA, CTIE, ACC, president & founder, Accent on Travel, and a specialist in this niche.
But again, it’s not that simple. The hard truth is that LGBTQ+ travel safety varies a great deal among destinations around the world. LGBTQ+ travelers may encounter challenges in certain destinations where sexual orientation, and gender identity and expression, are criminalized or marginalized. These issues can affect everything from the travelers’ ability to show public displays of affection, to being able to share a hotel room bed, to whether they can legally use dating apps in-destination.
A destination's attitude toward its own LGBTQ+ citizens is a good place to start in understanding its degree of acceptance. South Africa, for example, was the first country in the world to include a sexual orientation protection clause in its constitution (and the fifth country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage) ensuring that its LGBTQ+ citizens are full and equal members of society. This sets the stage for LGBTQ+ travelers to also enjoy the destination to the fullest.
The experts we spoke to named the following as good choices to recommend to LGBTQ+ clients:
Cape Town, South Africa - Especially popular with LGBTQ+ clients, because of its reputation as the gay capital of Africa, its proximity to the gorgeous wine region, iconic tourist attractions like Table Mountain and Robben Island, and vibrant nightlife. Mix this with a safari and Victoria Falls for a well-rounded trip.
Reykjavik, Iceland – LGBTQ rights are very progressive in Iceland, and it is considered to be one of the most LGBTQ-friendly countries in the world. Reykjavik is a dynamic and quirky city, plus visitors can explore ice caves, bathe in a blue lagoon, visit raging waterfalls, gaze at the northern lights, go whale watching, and walk on a glacier.
France and Italy – Always popular, especially in summer for the beach scene and parties. Many LGBTQ+ travelers are also into wine, making these perfectly suited, multi-faceted destinations.
Rio De Janeiro, Brazil – Voted the best gay destination in the world, thanks to the city's many gay-friendly attractions, which include beautiful beaches, bars, nightclubs, and trendy parties.
Barcelona, Spain – Spain, as a whole, has been at the forefront of the LGBTQ movement, and the colorful neighborhoods of Barcelona are known for their sizzling passion, vibrant art, cobblestone streets, fantastic wine, and an epic gay scene.
Bangkok, Thailand – A very liberal city, Bangkok is accepting of non-binary identities. It also has incredible street food, golden temples, and floating markets; and vibrant nightlife including burlesque clubs, drag shows, and other adult activities.
Berlin, Germany – A big city with a storied past and nightclubs and bars galore, this is a place where restraint can go out the window, for those who wish it in their travels.
Japan – Pre-Covid, Japan was an in-demand destination for LGBTQ+ travelers. While it is not quite a typical destination for LGBTQ+, it is very safe.
Trends in LGBTQ+ tourism
As you’re wrapping your head around how best to serve this travel segment, consider these trends:
1) LGBTQ+ travel is going multigenerational. Especially in the wake of the pandemic, more LGBTQ+ travel groups are expanding to include siblings, parents, and children.
2) This market segment is becoming more adventurous in their trips of choice.
3) These travelers are seeking higher-end experiences, focusing on luxury over budget and bucket-list over more typical trips.
4) Customization and personalization are key. It is less about going to see the Colosseum in Rome, for instance, and more about taking a cooking class in someone’s home, going to market to buy the ingredients, and immersing oneself in the tastes and sights of the local culture.
5) LGBTQ+ travelers are interested in sustainable and responsible travel with an emphasis not only on protecting the natural environment, but also on supporting the local communities they visit.
Resources to research the market
Travel advisors can learn more about how to reach and serve LGBTQ+ travelers by checking into resources like these:
IGLTA (The International LGBTQ+ Travel Association) provides a network of queer-friendly properties, tour operators, tourism boards, and travel organizations to assist travel advisors with planning itineraries for LGBTQ+ clients.
The Community Marketing & Insights (CMI), the world’s leading LGBTQ market research firm, offers a myriad of free research downloads.
The LGBTQ+ Travel Safety Index is a comprehensive, global study detailing the safest and the least safe countries for LGBTQ+ tourism.
A few words of advice
For travel advisors who want to book LGBTQ+ travel, Alder offered this advice: “Keep an open mind, and don’t bunch LGBTQ+ as one thing. So many people want to do that instead of thinking while there might be some differences, they want to experience all kinds of travel, not just a beach or party trip.”
Stellhorn added: “Be yourself, treat everyone with respect, be open and honest with your questions and concerns for them. Market products that you know and feel confident about. Always check out the political stand of a country regarding their LGBTQ+ policies, and if you are recommending that country, add in the political climate to the conversation so they can make an educated decision to move forward on the trip.”
And any travel advisor who is serious about selling this niche should consider that LGBTQ+ travelers want to see themselves represented in marketing materials.
The payoff for serving this market segment is working with clients who have considerable disposable income and a wide referral network that brings in repeat business. As Stellhorn said, “They typically are DINKS (double income no kids), so they have a much higher budget. They also tell their friends about positive experiences (and negative experiences), since the network has already been built in over the years.”
FROM THE SPONSOR:
South African Tourism is the national tourism agency responsible for the marketing of South Africa as a preferred leisure and business events destination. From breathtaking beauty to sun-soaked coasts; from wildlife to active adventure; from vibrant urban energy to the incredible warmth and cultural diversity of its people – South Africa is a traveler’s dream. Now, after two years of restricted travel movements, South Africa invites the world to come experience this country filled with rich, authentic, unfiltered experiences and to “Live Again!” South Africa has been reopened for tourism since November 2020 with globally benchmarked health and safety protocols in place, including requiring travelers to have a negative COVID-19 PCR test 72 hours prior to arrival, as well as visitors and locals alike wearing face masks in public. For further information on South African Tourism, visit www.southafrica.net/trade. For the latest travel trade updates, follow @SAtraveltrade on Twitter www.twitter.com/SATravelTrade.