The increasing popularity of travel and tourism means that the industry must adapt to the ever-changing needs of consumers in this market. Emma discussed one such new market — the halal tourism industry — which caters to growing numbers of Muslim tourists.
Another such example is the LGBTQ+ tourism industry. According to the European Travel Commission, the increase in countries legalizing same-sex marriage has three main impacts on the tourism sector:
- “Increased number of weddings creates greater economic impact.” This is because more weddings means more economic opportunities for businesses related to the wedding industry, many of which are tourism-related (think airplane tickets and hotels).
- “Destination weddings and big-ticket honeymoons.” More marriages being recognized means a bigger market for wedding-related travel.
- “Improving perceptions of the national ‘brand’.” A better national brand means that more tourists will potentially be interested in going to the country, increasing travel to the country as a whole.
That being said, making your business more inclusive of LGBTQ+ customers is more than just good for business. It can help those who have already chosen your tours feel more comfortable, especially if the tour takes place in a country that isn’t necessarily known for being gay-friendly. In an article for Travel Agent Central, Zachary Moses of HE Travel, a company specializing in tours for the LGBTQ+ crowd, notes, “We don’t run trips to places that say they will kill you if you’re gay. But we do run tours to places like India where they are working hard to change the anti-gay laws.” Touring with a company that has LGBTQ+ customers in mind can help ease some of the anxieties of travelers who may wish to visit places like India (which considered homosexual activity a crime at the time of the Travel Agent Central article) but are concerned about being treated fairly.
Countries Taking the Lead
For some countries, appealing to LGBTQ+ tourists is part of the national tourism strategy. The Visit Denmark website, for example, has resources for LGBTQ+ visitors, such as events, accommodations, bars, and more where truly everyone can feel safe and comfortable. It also relays the history of the gay rights movement in Denmark and shows how they were ahead of the curve in many areas. This is a straightforward way to not only ease the anxiety of LGBTQ+ people who may be looking to travel there, but also to encourage them to come. The German National Tourist Board prominently displays its affiliation with the International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association (IGLTA) and offers a mix of information about activities and accommodation (among other helpful tips) specifically catered to LGBTQ+ tourists as well as basic travel information, such as how to get there and what to see.
Visit Malta has taken a unique approach to touting its suitability for LGBTQ+ travelers. Their page on “Gay Friendly Malta” gives a brief insight into the island’s acceptance of LGBTQ+ people, including their number-one ranking on the ILGA-Europe Rainbow Index in 2016. Possibly more importantly, it provides links to another useful site: Gay Guide Malta. This non-profit provides in-depth information on all aspects of touring and travel that could be of interest to LGBTQ+ tourists, from the “Malta Gay Scene” to “Gay Marriage” to the “Gay-Friendly List”. Such a comprehensive guide paints a picture of Malta as an extremely gay-friendly tourist destination, a gesture that is sure to ease the minds of LGBTQ+ travelers. After all, a country with such an abundance of LGBTQ+ resources likely has them as a result of already welcoming many such customers.
How to Market to LGBTQ+ Customers
While there are a number of existing tour operators that cater specifically to LGBTQ+ clientele, there are plenty of opportunities for traditional companies to be more inclusive as well. One of the first steps is to recognize that the LGBTQ+ market is not a homogenous group. Everyone included in it has different travel needs and wants, and this diversity should be acknowledged. As Zachary Moses notes,
“[Gays and lesbians] are generally lumped together by heterosexual-minded companies who want to deal with us as one easy-to-market-to group. It doesn’t work that way. Gay people are just like straight people. Some like adventure, some like culture. Some like luxury, some like camping. It really has more to do with income. Two gay men with no children tend to have more money than two lesbian women with three kids. If you want to market to us, we need to know that you actually care about our needs. Pasting a rainbow flag in an ad is not enough.”
That being said, there are a few things you can do to make your business more attractive to LGBTQ+ customers while still acknowledging this group’s diversity. The UNWTO offers the following guidelines for companies wanting to break into this market:
1. “Encourage LGBT inclusion and diversity among all destination stakeholders.”
In the same vein as Katalin’s suggestions for how to marry social justice with tourism, your efforts at being LGBTQ+ friendly need to extend further than just your customers. The UNWTO says that tour operators can engage with the local community and demonstrate their commitment to the cause through their choice to “ support health initiatives, local clubs for LGBT youth and seniors, sports teams, music groups and other efforts that help improve the lives of local LGBT people.” In essence, your commitment to the rights of LGBTQ+ people shouldn’t stop at welcoming them on your tours: it should extend to your community at large.
2. “Carry out research and share it with your destination partners.”
This goes along with Zachary Moses’ comments about individuals in the LGBTQ+ community having different needs. The UNWTO recommends conducting research into this market to acknowledge these differences, as well as conducting research on why your destination is or isn’t seen as an LGBTQ+ friendly place.
3. “Recognize that authenticity is essential.”
One of the most important aspects of any tour business is authenticity. Travelers want to go where the locals go, and they want to experience life as it resembles that of the people in the destination they are visiting. The same goes for selling to the LGBTQ+ market. You have to practice what you preach: either you are fully committed to the rights of LGBTQ+ people and demonstrate that in how you treat your customers, employees, and the community, or you will come off as deceitful. As the UNWTO so aptly puts it, “It does not make sense to spend money on tourism promotion while the rights of LGBT people are overlooked or abused, since consumers will call out this inconsistency in public.”
4. “Work in partnership with local business and the LGBT community.”
You should not be operating in a vacuum. Engage with groups that can provide resources for welcoming LGBTQ+ travelers, and ensure that you are all working together towards the same goal: increased inclusivity.
It doesn’t all have to be so serious, however. One of our clients, La Bicicleta Verde, wrote a blog post “7 People Who Should Avoid Our Tours” that said:
“If you do not like: kids, dogs, tattoos, the colour green, or gay people, you will hate what we do. We are family friendly (we were kids once too), OUR GUIDES wear green and most of them have tattoos or a funky piercing, that’s cos they’re funky people! Lastly, we positively discriminate when we hire gays, gays for days… that’s how we roll!”
They’ve demonstrated that they’re welcoming of LGBTQ+ travelers and are authentic about it, specifically seeking to hire people from that community.
Being an inclusive tour business doesn’t have to be scary or difficult: it just means understanding the needs of your customers and striving to ensure that they have the most enjoyable time possible. Luckily, as a successful tour company, that’s probably something you’re doing already.
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