When you know more about cruising than your travel advisor, what's a traveler to do?
Get into this business, of course.
That's what Scott Wismont did back in 2015 after he realized he knew way more about cruising than the advisor he'd called to book his trip.
"He had just started out and I knew more about cruising than he did. And he asked me, 'do you want a job?'"
Unsure of how legit the business was, Wismont, nevertheless decided to jump in and get his feet wet. Like so many other advisors, he started out selling Disney. But it wasn't something he was passionate about.
"Even early on I was gearing towards the LGBT community, because it's my community and I can work with it and I know it," Wismont told TMR. "Continuing with the Disney focus was feeling restrictive because selling under their brand, you didn't immediately know I had an LGBTQ+ focus."
Then, along came the COVID-19 pandemic – and the opportunity to rebrand himself.
He left the agency he'd been working with and started Rainbow Getaways (a member of Ensemble), using the downtime provided by the pandemic to get his website up and running, earn his CTA from the Travel Institute and start getting the word out.
SEO Outpaces Recommendations
Rainbow Getaways' first clients were Wismont's friends and family, and then their friends and family. But it didn't take long for Google search results to start delivering clients.
"It continually blows my mind, because nine out of 10 times, when I get a new client and ask how they found me, it's Google," he said.
Wismont uses his website, and specifically a blog on the site for SEO purposes, though when he started it he didn't realize that's what he was doing.
"I started using a blog to inspire travel inspiration and was primarily focused on marketing on social media," he told TMR. "But I quickly discovered that most travelers were finding me on Google after searching for a gay travel agent or queer travel agent. I started paying attention to the keyword rankings and pivoted to focusing on SEO over other options for marketing."
While some of his blog posts are what he calls "filler" most are geared towards specific SEO terms related to gay travel that he picks to focus on.
Figuring out how to use keywords has been a journey of trial and error, he added, but he's also taken the time to learn as much as he can.
"I have spoken to a few experts in SEO over the years and took their tips to fine-tune my keywords, worked on building backlinks to raise the credibility of my website on Google and found a few SaaS tools that track things a bit better than Google Analytics.
Despite being a work in progress over the past two years, some of his earliest blog posts are actually paying the biggest dividends.
His top referring keyword for the past two years has been "Is Sandals Gay Friendly." The blog posts that ranks for that keyword are "The Surprising Experience of Being Gay at Sandals," which was first published in January 2021 and "How Safe Is It to be Gay in Jamaica at Sandals Negril," also published in early 2021.
"SEO actually works the way they say it works," he said.
Wismont tries to post a new blog article twice a month. (He tried weekly, but found it to be too much work.) He focuses on long-tail keywords (longer, more specific keywords that have less competition) as much as possible, while at the same time posting destination content, trip reports and more.
One of the best things about all the new clients he's gotten from Google over the past two years? They're already coming back to him for second and third vacations. And referring him to their friends and family.
With so many new and repeat clients reaching out, Wismont has already added two independent contractors over the past year and hopes to grow to 10 in 2023.
Choosing Gay Friendly Destinations
Despite the fact that "Is Sandals Gay Friendly" is the top referring keyword for Rainbow Getaways, the company is not Wismont's go-to all-inclusive for his clients.
The reason, he told TMR, is partly because many of the Caribbean islands that Sandals resorts are located on are not gay-friendly. But he also finds that the language Sandals staff use is full of what he refers to as "micro aggressions." Meaning, if he were to go to breakfast by himself, a Sandals staff member might ask him "Will your wife be joining you?" instead of something gender-neutral, like "Will your partner be joining you?"
"Other companies are in destinations that are a little bit more welcoming and their sensitivity training a lot better. They actually focus on inclusivity training and making sure that everyone actually feels welcome."
Asked which Caribbean destination he prefers for his clients, Wismont told TMR he likes St. Martin.
"St. Martin my favorite island right now because they've got a couple of all-inclusives… and because it's on St. Martin where there's Dutch and French, there's a lot more flexibility for LGBTQ couples because there are laws protecting them. And the people don't care."
As opposed, he added, to a place like Jamaica where a gay couple will probably be okay if they stay within the confines of their all-inclusive but will have problems if they leave.