Written By: LoAnn Halden, Communications Director, IGLTA
The International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association began in 1983 when a small group of travel agents and gay guesthouse owners united in South Florida with the idea of creating a networking organization that would help them to provide safe vacations for their lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender clients. Despite its small U.S. base, they called it “international,” and IGLTA has lived up to its name.
Today, the association has member businesses in more than 70 countries on all six inhabited continents who are united in their desire to providing and promoting LGBT-welcoming travel. IGLTA members are travel agents, tour operators, accommodations, destinations, airlines and other transportation companies, events and travel media. IGLTA was also the first LGBT organization to become an Affiliate Member of the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), and has partnerships with the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA), Destination Marketing Association International (DMAI), the European Travel Commission (ETC), the European Tourism Association (ETOA), National Tour Association (NTA) and the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA), among many others.
What the early IGLTA founders couldn’t have imagined, two decades before marriage equality was on the table anywhere in the world, was that the LGBT travel market would become such a vibrant and substantial part of the tourism space. The combined buying power of the LGBT adult population in the United States for 2015 is estimated at $917 billion, according to an analysis by Witeck Communications in Washington, D.C. This figure reflects roughly 6 to 7 percent of the adult U.S. population as willing to self-identify as LGBT. San Francisco-based Community Marketing & Insights, which has researched the LGBT travel industry for over 20 years, estimates that the annual economic impact of LGBT travelers is more than $75 billion in the U.S. alone.
Given that there are still more than 70 countries in the world where homosexuality is illegal, global data on the size of the LGBT community remains elusive. But even applying a more conservative 3 percent LGBT population estimate to the 2015 international tourist arrival figures from the UNWTO means that approximately 35 million overnight visitors who traveled to international destinations around the world last year were LGBT.
For any travel agent interested in expanding their client base, this is a valuable segment of the market that should not be overlooked. IGLTA can assist your business as an informational and networking tool and also with promotion to LGBT consumers.
Marketing & Outreach
IGLTA members receive a dynamic online profile on iglta.org that links to their business website and social media platforms. We encourage engagement with our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts, and use these platforms to showcase our diverse array of LGBT-welcoming members, from large mainstream companies like Delta Air Lines and Hilton Worldwide to independent tour operators and travel agents. These online resources are always available if you want to get an idea of the types of businesses that are supporting LGBT tourism. We also conduct a variety of consumer giveaways throughout the year that showcase travel packages from our members. Staff is available to answer questions and provide guidance from our Fort Lauderdale headquarters or our Washington, D.C.-based membership office. We have a team of volunteer ambassadors in more than 20 countries and regions who can answer questions that are destination specific.
The IGLTA rainbow flag logo, a globally recognized symbol for an LGBT-friendly business, is available for all members to use on their websites or marketing collateral. But, it’s not enough to add a logo to your website and then sit back and wait for the LGBT business to roll in. We often meet business owners who say, “Of course I’m gay-friendly,” but consumers can distinguish between someone who is after the so-called pink dollars and someone who is genuinely interested in making everyone feel welcome.
If you’re a travel agent (or any type of tourism business) interested in the market, there are three key things you should keep in mind:
- Be inclusive. You don’t need to offer only LGBT trips, but showcasing some LGBT events and packages alongside mainstream offerings goes a long way. Also, think about the language and imagery you use in your marketing materials. Does it only show heterosexual couples or do you see same-sex couples, families and groups mixed in? Do your romance packages use gender-neutral language? Everyone wants to see themselves in the mix.
When you’re handling bookings, don’t make assumptions. Most LGBT couples can share a story about checking into a hotel and being asked if they’d like two beds instead of one, or receiving a welcome card addressed to Mr. & Mrs. You need to feel comfortable having conversations about the needs of your LGBT clients if you want to successfully represent them.
- Do your homework. It’s important to understand global LGBT rights because they directly impact tourism and the safety of your clients. Do you know which countries still have laws criminalizing homosexuality? Which countries allow same-sex non-residents to marry while on holiday? IGLA, the International Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association is a good resource for worldwide laws based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Seek out LGBT media outlets with travel coverage, such as Curve (for lesbians), Passport Magazine, OUT, GayCities or ManAboutWorld to keep on top of market trends. There are a number of LGBT travel blogs that offer great insight into the millennial mindset, such as Dopes on the Road, Two Bad Tourists, Travels of Adam and the Nomadic Boys. IGLTA maintains calendars of LGBT events and tour offerings on its website, so you’ll be able to tell your clients that World Pride 2017 will be held in Madrid and the next Gay Games is set for Paris in 2018 without missing a beat.
As acceptance has grown, so have the number of destinations that court LGBT travelers and the options for LGBT travelers seeking group tours. In the early days of LGBT travel marketing, there were two types of destinations: cities with sizable LGBT populations and large Pride events such as Sydney, New York, Toronto, and Berlin or resort towns with a concentration of gay-specific guesthouses. Now, we’re seeing less obvious locales getting engaged. Yokohama, Japan celebrated Pride for the first time in 2015 with its Rainbow Festa. Monaco is one of the most recent destinations to join IGLTA.
- Be engaged. Get involved with your local LGBT community or chamber of commerce. Attend Pride and other LGBT events. Network with IGLTA. When LGBT travelers have positive experiences, they are known to be loyal, repeat customers.
“It’s important to recognize that the LGBT market is not a one size fits all market,” said John Tanzella, IGLTA President/CEO. “We’re interested in many kinds of travel experiences – culture, gastronomy, shopping, sports, adventure – just like our heterosexual counterparts. We travel in couples and with groups of friends, solo and with our families. What we all share is the need to feel safe and welcomed.”
Networking & Education
IGLTA participates in a variety of travel trade shows around the world each year, including those hosted by our organizational partners and some large global events like World Travel Market in London and ITB Berlin. (Our weekly eNewsletter provides updates.) At many of these we host networking events to benefit our IGLTA Foundation, the philanthropic arm of our association, which funds research, education and leadership development opportunities for LGBT tourism professionals.
Whether you are new to the market or have been selling LGBT travel for many years, the best way to build industry connections and receive news of the latest trends is to attend IGLTA’s Annual Global Convention. Our 34th edition of this global educational and networking event will be held 4-6 May 2017 in St. Petersburg, Florida at the Renaissance Vinoy St. Petersburg Resort & Golf Club and registration is now live. Roger Dow, President/CEO of the U.S. Travel Association, will deliver a welcome address at the conference, focusing on data from the U.S. travel market.
Applications are also open for our Buyer/Supplier Marketplace, the only global appointment-driven LGBT networking event of its kind for LGBT tourism. Held in conjunction with the IGLTA Annual Global Convention, it creates one-on-one timed meetings between leaders in outbound LGBT tourism bookings and LGBT-welcoming travel providers. Approved buyers receive free registration for the three-day IGLTA convention, including all educational sessions and evening networking events, in addition to the marketplace. Buyers who complete registration before December 31 are entered into a drawing for one of three $200 American Express gift cards.
“Our Buyer/Supplier Marketplace has proven to be an extremely popular addition to the convention as our members are always looking for more ways to generate direct LGBT business,” Tanzella said. “We expect the 2017 marketplace to be the largest yet.”
For more information on IGLTA and the benefits of joining, please email [email protected] or visit our website at iglta.org. Follow us @iglta. Complete details on the IGLTA Annual Global Convention are available at iglta.org/convention. Information on the IGLTA Foundation can be found at iglta.org/foundation.