The LGBT community represents 10 million adults and has a purchasing power of $917 billion in the U.S. This crucial segment has the means and desire to travel. Whether you are a motorcoach operator, a tour operator, or an attraction or destination, you need to understand the needs of LGBT tourists and strive to exceed their expectations for a welcoming experience.
When you invite guests for dinner to your home, you want to be as welcoming as possible, right? You try to find out their taste preferences and maybe even their favorite wine. The same is true with the LGBT customer.
The LGBT community actually consists of LGBTQQIAAP: lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual, allies, and pansexual. This broad scope of individuals defines more than 4.1 percent of adults, and the number keeps rising as more adults are willing to self-identify. Their disposable incomes are higher, so they tend to spend more on fashion, travel, and entertainment. Also, many are traveling with children; 37 percent have raised a child at some point in their lives. Thirty-six million overnight visitors who traveled to international destinations are part of the LGBT community, making it one of the fastest-growing markets in the international travel industry.
The tourism industry as a whole thrives on diversity. However, one in three LGBT travelers feels they are treated differently due to their sexuality while on holiday; 23 percent even try to change the way they act or camouflage their sexuality. To date, 70 countries still criminalize homosexuality worldwide.
The change starts within each of us by conveying a powerful image of tolerance and respect. Welcoming LGBT tourists is not just about displaying a rainbow flag, although this is helpful. Offer sensitivity training to all hospitality employees, provide certifications for staff members, and create an environment of acceptance by having a diverse local population, themed events, and openly LGBT public figures or allies. Destinations that make great places to live for the LGBT community make great places for them to visit.
Once you have developed a welcoming destination for LGBT travelers, you should dedicate marketing activities to this market. Attend events such as ITB, IGTLA Annual Global Convention, and World Pride NYC. Many tour operators have been specializing in this market since 1973, with the first LGBT tour down the Grand Canyon’s Colorado River. Connect with these custom tour operators and showcase your destination. Dedicate staff and resources to focus on this key market.
Together, we can create a positive travel experience for everyone. It is stated best by World Pride: “One World, One Pride.”
For more information on marketing to the LGBT community, visit the International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association website at www.iglta.org.
Julie Payne, CTP, CTIS, is project manager at RLB Marketing LLC, a business development firm specializing in strategic planning for the hospitality, entertainment, travel, and professional services industries.