In 2019, the LGBTQ travel industry was worth upwards of $211 billion dollars in annual consumer spending. Yes, that’s billion with a “B.”
What’s more, the Harris Poll reported that LGBTQ adults took 3.6 leisure trips in the past year, as compared to 2.3 leisure trips among non-LGBTQ adults.
Ed Salvato put in best in his Handbook of LGBT Tourism & Hospitality—members of the community are “more likely to travel in general, travel spontaneously, spend more money when they travel [and] travel for a longer period of time.”
The value of the pink dollar (the nickname for LGBTQ community’s purchasing power) is indisputable. And lots of companies are after it, nowhere more so than in the travel industry.
While there’s plenty of money to go around, most companies are missing the mark—and a big payout—when it comes to capturing the attention and respect of this segment.
The biggest companies invest thousands in floats for big city Pride parades. Smaller ones might rainbow-fy their logo for the month of June. Still others slap a rainbow picture on their Instagram mid-June with a terse Love is Love caption beneath.
And that’s where most companies stop. Their efforts appear supportive, but ultimately the engagement they generate is superficial.
As with any market segment, to effectively sell to LGBTQ travelers, you first have to understand them. Only then can you modify your online presence, marketing and services to appeal to their preferences.
It’s easier than it sounds. And it doesn’t require a complete rehaul of your business. Some basic education, thoughtful marketing and careful vetting of your suppliers are all it takes to make your business a standout in the community.
Some basic education, thoughtful marketing and careful vetting of your suppliers are all it takes to make your business a standout
Plus, getting started now means you’ll be getting a jump on your competition. A 2019 Host Agency Travel Agent Income Survey found fewer than 1% of travel agents reported LGBTQ travel as part of their niche.
With the industry on the rise, and the barriers to entry so low, it’s the perfect time for your travel company to stand out and reach this valuable market.
Sounds Good, But How Do I Fit LGBTQ Travel Into My Business?
Even if you support the LGBTQ community and are excited about the growth potential of including this niche in your services, you probably still have questions—
Are LGBTQ travelers similar to other travelers?
How do we fit inclusivity into our current message?
Would we have to change the destinations and services we offer?
Don’t worry. It’s normal to feel overwhelmed trying to understand a new niche. You probably don’t know where to start, what to say or how to say it.
The good news is being inclusive is easier than you think. And it doesn’t require a complete restructuring of your business. You don’t even have to fly the rainbow flag (although bonus points if you do).
Education is the most important part of creating an inclusive travel company. Once you’re aware of the unique challenges LGBTQ travelers face, you can adapt your existing marketing, services and destinations to appeal to this group.
LGBTQ Travel 101
First things first. Recognize that all LGBTQ people are different. LGBTQ travel, like the community in general, is diverse, multifaceted and complex. We’re of all different ages, colors and genders. You can find us across every political, cultural, economic and geographic spectrum.
In addition, we have unique interests and travel for tons of different reasons. Some of us travel to meet other LGBTQ people. Some of us travel to find a place more welcoming than home. But most of us travel for the same reasons as everyone else—fun, relaxation, quality time with loved ones, an adventure. It may seem obvious, but it bears repeating.
Most of us travel for the same reasons as everyone else—fun, relaxation, quality time with loved ones, an adventure.
People outside of the community often assume we’re a unified group solely because we’re all part of the same acronym. Nothing could be further from the truth. Like all of your customers, each LGBTQ client has different wants, needs, desires, concerns and budget constraints. Treat each person like an individual and adapt as needed.
It’s also important to realize that while being gay/bisexual/ transgender influences our travel preferences, we’re more complex than that. We’re travelers first and LGBTQ second.
Just look at the results from CMI’s 2019 survey of LGBTQ travelers. The survey asked 5,000+ LGBTQ travelers, Looking only at your trips in the past year, what type of traveler do you consider yourself to be? Only 37% chose "LGBTQ Traveler" among their selections.
More frequently, LGBTQ travelers identified themselves as relaxation travelers (54%), gastronomic travelers (49%), local experience travelers (49%), nature travelers (42%), sightseers (41%) and museum enthusiasts (41%) before identifying as an LGBTQ traveler.
Along the same lines, LGBTQ travelers prioritize LGBTQ-friendly destinations over LGBTQ hotspots (think Provincetown, Massachusetts or Mykonos, Greece). Around 80% of the respondents preferred the friendly destinations, compared to about 30% who preferred explicitly LGBTQ destinations.
In other words, LGBTQ travelers prefer destinations that offer safety and a warm welcome over destinations packed with gay clubs.
What does that mean for you as a travel business?
You probably already offer things the LGBTQ community wants. You don’t have to completely rethink your destinations and services to reach this group.
Good news, right? Read on to find out how your travel business can attract LGBTQ customers. And how you can be a true ally for our community.
Edit your website
So you’ve already got what LGBTQ travelers want, what’s the next step? Getting LGBTQ people in the door.
The easiest way is through your website. There are a lot of easy ways to show your support— write an inclusive mission statement, list an anti-discrimination policy in your website's footer, add a tagline like LGBTQ-friendly or highlight any LGBTQ trips you’ve booked.
While your stance should be clear, it should also be subtle. Please, please, please don’t splash rainbows on every web page, newsletter or blog post. Our community is tuned into “rainbow washing.” We can easily tell the difference between a company that actually cares and one that’s just trying to make a quick buck.
Adjust Your Marketing
Chances are you’re doing most of your marketing via social media. That’s great! Studies show that the LGBTQ community uses Instagram and Twitter more than twice as much as straight people. And is more likely to use social media in general. Thoughtfully chosen images, captions and hashtags will definitely get you noticed by the community.
Again, it’s important to make your message clear, but subtle. For example, do include pictures of a same-sex couple enjoying dinner. Don’t have them wearing rainbow t-shirts. Do sprinkle in popular hashtags like #LoveisLove, #gaytravel and #pride when appropriate. Don’t use them on completely non-related images.
Another point—diversify your messaging as much as possible. LGBTQ marketing routinely focuses on white, cis-gendered gay couples while ignoring the rest of the community. Highlight LGBTQ POCs and non-cis gendered individuals when you can. If you’re not sure how to proceed, ask an LGBTQ staff member or friend for their input. *Bonus points for hiring a member of the LGBTQ community.
It may sound like a lot, but keep in mind—your marketing doesn’t have to come from just you. In fact, it’s better if it doesn’t.
User-generated content (UGC) is a valuable way to market your services at no cost to you. UGC includes photos, videos or reviews from guests. 79% of people say this kind of content impacts their buying decisions and it’s been found 9.8 times more impactful than influencer content.
UGC is effective because it’s authentic marketing. It enriches your company’s LGBTQ messaging by giving these customers a platform and a voice to share their experiences.
Encouraging LGBTQ guests to share photos or videos, as well as creating a specific hashtag for the LGBTQ community, makes finding their content easy so you can repost or reshare it in real time.
This is all well and good, but do you know what the single most important thing is when marketing to the LGBTQ community?
Don’t just do it during Pride month.
So many companies show up in June waving a rainbow flag, only to disappear on July 1st. This kind of support is superficial at best, and exploitative at worst. LGBTQ individuals don’t stop existing at the end of June. We live our identities 365 days a year.
Remember, our community is savvy when it comes to marketing. We know the difference between true engagement and profiteering. Show your commitment consistently throughout the year and you’ll be a superstar with LGBTQ customers.
Educate yourself and your staff
Adopting inclusive messaging and marketing is crucial, but you still have more work to do.
In order to be a true ally for LGBTQ customers, you need to understand their unique experiences, challenges and desires. These are things straight people simply don’t have to worry about.
Like did you know being gay is illegal in 72 countries? And in some of those countries, consensual same-sex activity is punishable by prison time, or even death?
Traveling as a transgender individual is even more challenging—explaining medications, wearing binders or prosthetics that set off body scanner alarms, using IDs that don't match gender presentation— thse are just a few of the common issues trans people face.
Only when you start understanding the obstacles LGBTQ people face can provide appropriate recommendations and service to our community.
On a basic level, that means knowing which countries are LGBTQ-friendly and which aren’t. Beyond that, providing tips and suggestions regarding acceptable behaviors country to country goes a long way in helping your LGBTQ customers plan their trips. You should be able to answer common questions like should we ask for separate hotel beds, or can we share? Is it okay to hold hands in public? Can I reveal my sexuality, or should I keep it private?
Obviously you don’t have to memorize the laws and customs for every single destination, but know where to find reliable information. Two of the best sources are Community Marketing & Insights (CMI) and The International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association (IGLTA).
CMI is a leader in LGBTQ market research. They conduct an annual survey of LGBTQ travelers which gives insights on how this group makes travel choices. The IGLTA provides LGBTQ travel research and offers guides to various countries.
And did I mention? All the resources are free.
After some home study, consider attending conferences to broaden your knowledge and expand your network. IGLTA hosts an annual conference on all things LGBTQ travel. This year’s conference in Milan was delayed, but the 2021 event is scheduled from May 5-8, 2021 in Atlanta.
The New York Times Travel Show is another great option. It features an entire pavilion dedicated to LGBTQ travel and keeps growing every year. Unfortunately, there won’t be an event in 2021, but expect 2022 to be bigger than ever.
Finally, CMI hosts a one-day LGBTQ Marketing & Advertising Symposium focusing on LGBTQ buying trends, adapting your business for the LGBTQ market and LGBTQ best practices. This year’s event was rescheduled for November 19 so you can still take advantage of this incredible opportunity. The best news? You guessed it—attendance is free!
Qualify Your LGBTQ Travelers
You’ve updated your website, adjusted your marketing and educated yourself about the LGBTQ travel industry. Thanks to all that work, you’re bound to have at least a few LGBTQ customers. What can you do to ensure they have the best possible travel experience?
Before booking anything for an LGBTQ client, ask some qualifying questions to help determine their comfort level when it comes to traveling.
Some potential questions include
- Are you looking for a LGBTQ hotspot?
- How important is it to you that the destination is LGBTQ friendly?
- How important is it to you that the supplier (hotel/resort) is LGBTQ friendly?
Once you get an understanding of what your client wants and how comfortable they feel traveling, you’re better equipped to make recommendations.
Qualify Your Destinations and Suppliers
Qualifying your LGBTQ customers is one piece of the puzzle, but it doesn’t end there. By vetting your destinations and suppliers, you can better advise and inform your customers.
Again, the IGLTA website is filled with valuable information for travel companies. Using suppliers from these lists guarantees your LGBTQ customers will be well cared for.
There are a few resources you can use to gauge destination friendliness so your recommendations align with your client’s comfort level.
- The International Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Trans & Intersex Association (IGLA) map of sexual orientation laws which illustrates sexual orientation laws by country.
- IGLA also published a trans mapping report that addresses common concerns genderqueer travelers have.
- The IGLTA travel guides
- TAG-approved hotels is a comprehensive listing of hotels committed to LGBTQ-friendly policies and services
Once you identify potential suppliers, ask questions to gauge their experience and openness to this demographic.
Some questions include
- Have you hosted LGBTQ guests?
- Has your staff had diversity training?
- What kinds of activities and events are available for LGBTQ guests?
Weed out unfriendly suppliers if they seem uncomfortable or unable to answer simple questions like these.
Wrapping it all up
Phew! It’s a lot of information to take in, but I hope this post helps you see how little steps can make a huge difference when working with LGBTQ customers.
Adding a short message about inclusion on your website, posting some same-sex couples on your social media accounts and doing some self study will help make the LGBTQ community notice your business.
I’m sure you still have questions and concerns about inclusivity. That’s good! Running an inclusive business is a daily practice, not an item to cross off your to-do list.
The best thing you can do is start. Don’t wait until you feel “ready” or until everything’s perfect. Make one small change today and you’ll start seeing results before you know it.
This post was contributed by:
Audrey Hickey is a copywriter specializing in LGBTQ travel. As a bisexual woman and a perpetual traveler, she knows exactly what companies need to say to make LGBTQ customers listen (and how it say it!) She’s passionate about empowering LGBTQ travelers to step out of their comfort zones, increasing visibility of the community and using travel to create a more inviting world for all of us. Get it touch if you’d like help tailoring your written communications (emails, newsletters, blogs, social media captions) to LGBTQ customers. She’ll help you find the right words while honoring your brand’s history, message and style.