The three-day PROUD Experiences conference included one-on-one networking sessions, as well as classes and panel discussions on understanding the LGBTQ customer, revenue growth, and sales and diversity training. Like most luxury travel conferences, it had to be fun—attendees mingled at cocktail parties in NYC hotels and landmarks and enjoyed lunches and coffee breaks with a view of the Brooklyn Bridge.
LGBTQ travel represents an enormous revenue opportunity on the business side and the chance to support an ever-growing cultural movement.
“I left PROUD with a newfound understanding of the community,” says Susan Zurbin-Hothersall at Power Travel. “I’ve always been a supporter, but I will now be more sensitive when I recommend hotels and cities for my LGBTQ clients.”
LGBTQ travelers travel twice as often and spend twice as much as their straight counterparts, said Ellen Stewart, head of PinkNews, an LGBTQ news website, in her opening presentation. And more than two-thirds consider themselves to be trendsetters.
“If the LGBTQ travel market was a country, it would be the fourth biggest economy in the world,” said Simon Mayle, event director for PROUD. “With an increase of people identifying on the LGBTQ spectrum, this next decade is set for strong growth again.”
In many ways, selling travel to LGBTQ clients is no different from selling it to anyone else. “Build rapport with them and get to know them as an individual,” says Darren Burn, CEO of OutOfOffice.com and TravelGay.com. “But all too often agents are selling trips that give them a better commission rather than choosing the best destination for their clients.”
The right recommendations are key. Here’s where to start.
Safety is the biggest concern for LGBTQ travelers. “We plan travel according to where it’s safe. We are always mindful that we don’t want to go anywhere that puts us at risk,” said Jake Graf, an actor and filmmaker who, along with his wife, Hannah, a British army officer, make up one of the transgender community’s power couples.
This means avoiding places like Kenya, which upheld laws in May that criminalize gay sex. But destinations such as Belize and India have struck down these kinds of laws. In India, the movement to decriminalize was supported by the first openly gay prince in the world, HRH Manvendra Singh Gohil. He spoke at PROUD to let people know that India is free and open to all.
Darren Burn vets every hotel his company works with, and he claims that in some places, reality differs from the law. In the Maldives, where it is illegal to be gay, same-sex couples can still enjoy honeymoon benefits. “We know the properties that have well-trained staff and that can ensure our guests have a warm welcome no matter who they love,” he says.
Little things make a big difference
Advisors can take care of small things that might upset LGBTQ clients before they arrive.
Three easy examples: Make sure the hotel writes “Mr. and Mr.” or “Mrs. and Mrs.” on the welcome note for same-sex couples; ensure bedding preferences are taken care of; and tell the hotel to lay out two pairs of male or female slippers. Dessert works, too—the Grafs stayed at The Beekman hotel and were given a rainbow cookie at check-in.
Advisors can encourage suppliers to take steps to make their properties more welcoming, such as in-depth staff training. Although it can be a huge undertaking, companies like HospitableMe offer full LGBTQ travel and tourism training. But simple things matter the most. If staff members are unsure of the family dynamic or relationship, they should say things like, “What a beautiful family,” not “Where’s the mom?” if it’s two males with a child.
A simple, welcoming sign on a company’s website means a lot to LGBTQ travelers, as does flying the rainbow flag, which Virgin often does.
Book destinations that make a genuine effort
Advisors should have a list of LGBTQ-friendly destinations and hotels ready.
For Burn, French Polynesia is always a hot spot. Same-sex marriage is fully legal, and his company plans many weddings there. He says Mykonos will always be at the top of the list, but that “overtourism is creeping in, so we recommend our clients visit smaller islands such as Paros, Naxos, and Milos.”
These destinations and hotels stood out at PROUD:
- Thailand has a specific site for LGBTQ travelers called “Go Thai, Be Free,” where travelers can browse by destination and hotel.
- In true Vienna fashion, the city promotes LGBTQ travel in a historical way, noting on their website that, “Homosexual emperors, warlords, princesses and composers once lived here.” Some crosswalk signals display same-sex couples, there are tours at the Kunsthistorichesmuseum led by drag queen Tiefe Kümmernis, and a full calendar of LGBTQ events is available year-round.
- Stockholm, which decriminalized homosexuality 75 years ago and legalized marriage equality 10 years ago, promotes its long history as an LGBTQ haven. The city’s tourism bureau has a dedicated website, listing bars, clubs, and events. Travelers can stay at The Diplomat hotel to support a gay owner, and they can shop for gender neutral clothes at Hope in Biliotekstan.
- Hotel brands such as Accor and Hyatt have far-reaching diversity initiatives. On the economy end of Accor’s 4,800 hotels, Ibis is leading with a “We Are Open” campaign that promotes inclusivity and an open mind in its global advertising. Hyatt is an official sponsor of WorldPride 2019, and its VP and global chief of diversity, Tyronne Stoudemire, spoke on a PROUD panel about how to grow your LGBTQ market share.
- Both Celebrity Cruises and Uniworld go above and beyond, says Gregg Kaminsky of R Family Vacations. “Celebrity hosts LGBTQ groups, they do Pride events fleet-wide, and most importantly, they listen. And every single Uniworld employee has been trained by HospitableMe.”
Look for inclusive marketing
Before booking anything, scroll through a company’s website and look for inclusive marketing, like photos of same-sex couples. Rick Stiffler, VP of leisure sales for Preferred Hotels & Resorts says, “So many suppliers say they are welcoming but I see marketing collateral and websites and I don’t see myself. We should all be inclusive.”
Apply to Attend PROUD
PROUD Experiences is produced by Reed Travel Exhibitions, which also runs ILTM events, and announced New York City as its permanent conference home. (Last year, the first iteration was held in London.) PROUD will be held June 22–24 in 2020.