Around the World Destinations are Awakening to the Potential Economic Boon with Queer Travelers that Comes with LGBTQ Rights
by Heather Cassell
The light bulb seems to be turning on for some destinations and it is radiating pink rays.
Unless you’ve been hiding in a closet it’s been a little difficult to miss that several destinations in the United States and around the world are newly courting LGBTQ travelers, while well trodden queer vacation spots are revamping their campaigns this past year.
This summer alone, Louisville, Kentucky; Cleveland, Ohio; Mexico and Monaco rolled out the rainbow carpet to would be queer travelers touching down in the city and countries, respectively. They joined Curaçao, Iceland, Ireland, Spain, Taiwan, and Thailand.
It’s not a mirage. What a difference an economic downturn and a change in attitude make. During hard times more destinations it became popular to market to the LGBTQ market as it was considered a solvent gallivanting spendy group with disposable income. However, not only did the early travel and hospitality businesses stand by the community when times began to turn around again, but more are tapping into the LGBT travel market at an unprecedented number. This was unimaginable 20 years ago, says David Paisley, senior research director at Community Marketing, Inc., and Ian Johnson, founder and director of OutNow, who specializes in research on LGBTQ lifestyle and travel trends.
It’s not just destinations that are suddenly seeing the light it’s also airlines and hotels, adds Tanya Churchmuch, president of MuchPR, an LGBTQ travel marketing and public relations expert, and Ian.
They both echo other queer travel experts but describe a much more complex terrain for LGBTQ travel where airlines, destinations, and hotels are welcoming queer travelers in multiple ways. It could be as simple as opening the door to welcome LGBTQ travel by adding a blog post or web page focused on same-sex or gender variant travelers to the company’s website or devoting resources to updating a dedicated webpage up to hosting a robust LGBTQ travel microsite. Depending on budget allowances some destinations, hotels, or airlines are even hosting LGBT press trips to launching a full-blown LGBT travel marketing campaign, she says.
“Each destination considers the market in its own way, and depending upon their size, scope, budget and interest, so how they try to attract LGBTQ travelers is quite different,” Tanya says.
A Giggling in Heart (or Pocket)?
The big question is: What has changed for these vacation spots and hospitality and transportation leaders to go over the rainbow?
LGBTQ travel experts agree that the incredible shift toward winning marriage equality and other LGBTQ rights has greatly influenced and alleviated past fears decision-makers at destinations and the hospitality industry to publicly come out and show their love for the LGBTQ community. Many of these vacation spots and travel leaders have internally always been accepting and support its LGBTQ employees, say queer travel experts.
“First of all for a lot of these unexpected destinations people’s attitudes toward same-sex marriage has radically shifted within the past five years,” says David, pointing out that staff at tourism bureaus are relatively LGBTQ-friendly, but they are often working in a not-so-friendly environment for the LGBTQ community and there’s the harsh reality of budget and staff restrictions.
Tanya agrees with David, but beyond gaining rights there is the cold hard cash reality: hospitality and travel is a business and LGBTQ wealth is estimated to be $3.7 trillion and a large percentage of that trillion with a “T” is spent on another “T”: travel, according to LGBT Capital, a trading arm of Galileo Capital Management.
“The same way that LGBT rights are expanding and the LGBT community is becoming much more visible across the board, I think it’s simply time,” says Tanya, pointing out that money plays a big factor, especially when looking at untapped markets, and everyone is looking to expand their business. “The LGBT community is a strong niche market in the travel industry.”
Due to LGBTQ people coming out family members are becoming allies, even when they travel with each other, and there’s the hard data. Tracking, measuring, and projecting LGBTQ travelers habits has become easier and more accurate, Ian adds.
“It is substantial enough to make the industry take serious notice of the LGBT tourism market,” says Ian.
LGBTQ people are traveling more than ever and will increase their gallivanting around the globe in the future, according to the World Tourism Organization. The annual growth rate of LGBTQ travelers is 10.3 percent compared with the overall growth of tourism which is at 4.7 percent.
“I’m a big fan of getting outside of your comfort zone and experiencing places completely different from your day to day life,” says LoAnn Halden, communications director of the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association, who spoke for her personal experiences and observations for this article rather than for the organization. “It’s what keeps me traveling!”
With that growing LGBTQ travel market, Mexico and others are hearing cha-ching and are ready to embrace queer travelers.
Mexico has long a popular destination among LGBTQ vacationers. However, a recent survey conducted by the Ministry of Tourism (SECTOR) and the Mexican Government focused on LGBT travel to Mexico revealed more destinations in the Latin American country that LGBTQ travelers favor. Beyond Puerto Vallarta, it was revealed in the survey that Cancún, Cuernavaca, Guadalajara, Mexico City, Oaxaca and other Mexican cities and towns have been identified as gay-friendly too. Mexico is looking to capitalize on this discovery.
Recognizing the potential benefits of LGBTQ travelers coming to Mexico, Carlos Joaquín González, undersecretary for innovation and tourism development at SECTOR is championed increasing LGBTQ travel, in July. Carlos is gearing up for LGBTQ travelers. He hosted workshops focused on LGBTQ tourism that attracted tourism leaders from 15 states interested in welcoming queer travelers and supported the LGBTQ Confex hosted in Merida, Mexico in September.
Like Mexico, some Caribbean island countries are opening up to LGBTQ travelers too.
David will be leading a panel discussion “Teach Me to Niche” in Curacao, which has taken a big step in recent years to attract LGBTQ travelers to its party island in the Caribbean, at the Caribbean Tourism Organization’s State of the Industry Conference (SOTIC) in Curacao on October 21-23.
In Mexico last year, the increase in LGBTQ travelers translated to three million international visitors, with an average consumption valued at approximately $1,550, almost double the $780 average consumption of the traditional traveler to Mexico.
In the US LGBT travelers translated to raking in $65 billion thanks to LGBTQ tourism alone last year. That number is anticipated to increase significantly thanks to the US Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage throughout the nation June 26.
That endorsement is anticipated to boost the American economy to an estimated tune of around $4.25 billion dollars, thanks to an influx of 1.3 million international LGBTQ tourists, according to an Out Now Global LGBT2030 Study. The study estimates that there will be a 9 – 11 percent increase in international LGBTQ tourists to the US (in conservative estimates) during the next three years, reported Passport Magazine.
Internationally this represents a potential market of 180 million people, with an annual spending of about $200 million in the tourism sector, which is 55 percent higher than that of the world’s main source market, China, with $120 million, reports Tourism Review.
It’s no wonder destinations are changing its tune welcoming LGBTQ travelers.
This is a good thing, but queer travel experts point out destinations need to see the person not the pocketbook to gain LGBTQ travelers by being genuine and offering quality products and services.
“If someone advertises saying they want LGBT travelers, but in reality they aren’t providing any resources to those who visit, I wonder about their authenticity,” says Tanya. “There may legitimately be absolutely nothing queer about their destination, but it’s important to show that we are welcome if they’re marketing to us.”
“‘LGBT’ spells ‘people’ and you need to focus on delivering great products to LGBT people rather than focus solely on the content of their wallets,” he says. “When a destination takes the trouble to better understand and meet the needs of their LGBT travel guests then they earn the right to our business and our referral business as well.”
Giving props to new destinations welcoming LGBTQ travelers, LoAnn suggests that queer travelers should consider these destinations that are reaching out to the community because, “People who hate us do not advocate for attracting us to their destination, no matter how much money they think we have,” she says.
The Fabulous Rainbow Way
Some rock star destinations are showing the fabulous way on the rainbow road and inspiring new locations to follow include in the US: Dallas, Texas; Las Vegas, Nevada; New York, New York; Richmond, Virginia; Key West; Florida, Baltimore, Maryland; Provincetown, Massachusetts; and around the world Buenos Aires; Argentina; Berlin, Germany; Manchester, Britain; and Stockholm, Sweden to name a few destinations.
Dallas is a good example of tourism bureaus working collaboratively with the local LGBT chamber of commerce, David says.
“It’s a good collaboration between the local LGBT chamber of commerce and the travel bureau,” he continues. “You have some cities where the tourism bureau runs with it and other cities where it’s a collaboration between the local LGBT chamber of commerce and tourism bureau.”
Dallas isn’t the only big city in Lone Star State that has moved beyond its Wild West image to embrace the 21st century. The Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau launched MyGayHouston.com. This year, it announced its first LGBTQ-targeted ad campaign, reported the Morning News.
Austin and San Antonio are following suit adding LGBTQ-friendly microsites to its consumer visitors’ sites, working with local LGBTQ chambers of commerce, and hitting the Pride circuit.
It’s a common formula for smaller markets. David suggests LGBTQ travelers shouldn’t overlook when they are searching for the next great getaway.
“One thing that is really exciting about the smaller markets the staff of the tourism bureaus … tend to turn to the local LGBT community and LGBT infrastructures in order to promote their destinations to the community,” says David, making it a great opportunity to get to know the local community. Additionally, it often drives traffic to the historical districts and regional area that general travelers don’t venture to.
“It’s not a destination that would necessarily come top of mind to an LGBT visitor,” she says about Richmond, “So, they’ve worked really well with what they have.”
Some of the new destinations courting LGBTQ travelers in the US included Akron/Cleveland and Cincinnati, Ohio; Laguna Beach and Sacramento, California; Louisville, Kentucky; Pittsburg, Pennsylvania; Portland, Oregon; and Rochester, New York. Around the world queer travel experts have Athens, Greece; Helsinki, Finland; Mexico City, Mexico; Japan, South Africa, and Switzerland on their next adventure list.
LoAnn, who recently returned from Africa, additionally suggests in spite of Africa’s anti-gay reputation there are ways to gaily travel safely to Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa.
“While Africa, as a continent, is still very challenging for LGBT people, those countries have some truly extraordinary travel options that can be experienced safely,” says LoAnn.
“It was a dream trip: Beautiful Cape Town with its vibrant gay community; the incredible safari camps of Botswana; and the otherworldly sand dunes of Namibia,” she says.
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