With an estimated annual spend of more than $218 billion worldwide prior to the pandemic, the LGBTQ+ travel market is armed and ready to explore the world.
It’s not surprising then, that endless research and studies have been conducted the past several years about consumer trends and preferences in the LGBTQ+ market.
Given that the LGBTQ+ market spends 33% more on travel than the rest of the general population, are more likely to travel internationally, and travel more often in general, travel brands would do well not just to understand how to entice, but to embrace this rising market.
A 2021 census conducted in the United States showed that the LGBTQ+ community is the fastest growing minority segment in the country, with close to $1.4 Trillion spending power.
The LGBTQ+ market is not just here to stay, but is continuously growing, so it’s important for brands to know how to cater to the community properly.
Action over rainbow
With numerous brands wooing the LGBTQ+ market left and right, the population has become discerning in identifying which brands really walk the talk, and which ones are merely capitalising on the pink dollar.
Fast Company reported that in the year 2022, a rainbow simply “isn’t going to cut it.” According to the report, brands can no longer rely on performative acts of recognition every June or specific days, especially when it comes to young people.
For older consumers brought up under extreme discrimination, corporate and brand recognition might have felt like progress.
“There is a generation of people who have seen Pride celebrated every year of their life, and for them recognition isn’t enough. They want action,” Fast Company reports.
According to data platform Influential, just 14% of Gen Z looked favorably on rainbow flag campaigns, compared to 42% of baby boomers.
“If marketing campaigns don’t intrinsically align with your company values or are seen as a once-a-year, insincere nod, LGBTQ+ consumers may see them as hypocritical pandering,” Founder of The Feather Awards Thami Kotlolo said in an EQUAL Africa panel discussion on earning brand loyalty from the LGBTQ+ traveller at the Africa Travel Market in April 2022.
“Being intentional with travel spend can make a huge difference in the long run. If you’re dedicated to succeeding with this market, it’s time to think long-term and invest in making sure you include the right people in the conversation,” Kotlolo said.
Micheal Gladwin, Managing Director of Afrigay Travel, who was also part of the discussion, said: “If you want to target LGBTQ+ travellers, you and your staff need to understand the culture and how to integrate it into your messaging. Make an effort to gain a deeper understanding – rather than just sticking a pride flag onto your marketing.”
Know that LGBTQ+ tourism is not a trend
As early as 15 years back, some travel brands were already aware that targeting the LGBTQ+ community can be “lucrative”, as they were found in general to have more disposable income than their heterosexual counterparts.
Since then, travel companies have shown outward support and targeted marketing to the community. One of the notably earlier ones is that of JetBlue’s impromptu in-flight pre-wedding shower to a same-sex couple in 2013.
And there is good reason for brands to continue to study, understand, and support the multi-billion LGBTQ+ market.
A 2021 report by Reuters showed that more Britons than ever before identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual. The estimated population reached 1.4 million people, 15% more than the previous year. The number of adults identifying themselves heterosexual fell by 0.9 percentage points. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said that there has been a decreasing trend in adults who identify as straight or heterosexual since 2014.
The same trend is seen in America, where analytics and advisory company Gallup reported that the percentage of adults who identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or something other than heterosexual has increased to a new high of 7.1%, double the percentage from 2012, when the company first measured it.
Simon Mayle, event director of the International Luxury Travel Market (ILTM) events in the Americas and PROUD Experiences, has this piece of advice from a podcast about fostering inclusive travel experiences: “About 8% of Baby Boomers identify as LGBTQ. Whereas 31% of Centennials, that’s born from 1997 onwards, identify as LGBTQ. So that’s almost 1/3 of everyone’s future business. If you’re not talking their language, then you’re going to be missing a potential third of your clientele.”
When you take the fact that the population of LGBTQ+ adults is increasing, spending more on travel, and is leading the way to post-pandemic tourism recovery, then it’s quite clear that LGBTQ+ tourism is here to stay.
Go beyond attracting the market: anticipate their needs
So you’ve done your homework, allotted a proper budget, ran successful campaigns and earned bookings from the LGBTQ+ market. This is not where the story ends. The most important part is what happens during their travels when they are already on your tour / airline or hotel as guests or passengers.
Anticipating the needs of the LGBTQ traveller should be the next step. There are a number of things that to heterosexual travellers may seem like ordinary and mundane procedures, but can sometimes act as hiccups in an LGBTQ+ traveller’s experience.
Bed configurations, in particular, make hotel check-ins a tricky navigation process for LGBTQ travellers.
Sydney-based couple Drew and Les, who frequently travel overseas, found themselves in an awkward situation when their check-in procedure at a hotel in China was taking longer than usual. They were then told by the front desk staff that she has been trying to fix a reservations system “issue” because the booking was for one queen bed instead of two separate beds for two male guests.
Another situation that brings a level of anxiety to LGBTQ+ travellers is that of inviting friends to hotel rooms. Panfilo Hizola, Jr, a finance executive from Sydney recalls being on holidays in Prague. His hotel stay experience had been perfect until a locally-based friend tried to visit him in his hotel room for a catch-up. The hotel’s protocol was to do a security screening for guests, which they perfectly understood. However, before being allowed to enter the room, the front desk staff double checked with the friend if the hotel guest he was visiting was indeed another male.
Hotel amenities are also another overlooked aspect when welcoming LGBTQ+ travellers. In his podcast about fostering inclusive travel experiences, Simon Mayle shares an unforgettable trip to Iguazu Falls with his partner. After they checked in at a local hotel, they noticed that the pair of hotel room slippers were sized 42 and 38, standard sizes for heterosexual couples. The hotel then changed the slippers to two sized 42’s when the couple went out to take sunset photographs of the falls.
Looking at this 10-year old TripAdvisor forum on what makes a place gay-friendly, it seems that LGBTQ+ travellers still face many of the same issues as above (hotel bed configuration, bringing guests, etc) a decade later.
How can we make this better? One of the key tips that LGBTQ tourism marketing consultant Ed Salvato has for travel brands is to hire an expert.
“If you want to penetrate the Chinese market, for example, you’d hire someone from China who speaks Chinese fluently. The same is true in the LGBT space,” Salvato wrote in his guide, ‘Handbook of LGBT Tourism and Hospitality’.
Salvato added: “Don’t let this be the burden of an LGBTQ colleague. There are smart, lean agencies and highly regarded industry experts who are passionate and deeply knowledgeable about the segment. Just being an LGBT person doesn’t make that person an expert on the market.”
No special treatment; just equality
The LGBTQ+ market may travel differently than heterosexual travellers, but that does not mean they demand to be given the special treatment.
Jace Robertson, an operations manager for BCD Travel in Adelaide who is currently travelling around Europe shared what brand he thinks gets it right for the LGBTQ+ traveller.
“A resort that stands out for me straight away is the W. I’ve had the opportunity to stay at a number of W Hotels around the world and they always go above and beyond to make you feel welcome no matter what your background.”
Robertson added: “I recently stayed at the W Ibiza and the experience was second to none, from check-in to check-out, a personal welcome note in the room, friendly conversations throughout the stay, it just made me feel at home and accepted.”
Robertson’s positive experience at the W does not mention any VIP or special treatment, and could in fact, be any traveller’s memorable hotel stay, regardless of their sexual orientation.
To be able to go through travel procedures and experiences without meeting any raised eyebrows –the same way as any straight person–is the ideal bare minimum.
Drew and Les, the couple who encountered the “systems glitch” in their China hotel said it simply: “At the end of the day, we just want to be treated the same way as straight people.”