More people are venturing to non-traditional destinations in pursuit of unique experiences, a trend that presents particular risks for LGBTQ travelers, as well as responsibilities for the travel advisors who serve them.
Experts say it is imperative that travel advisors be well-informed on the laws and societal norms of various destinations where same-sex relationships may be frowned on or even illegal.
Although they face barriers, LGBTQ travelers represent a particularly dynamic and lucrative segment. They spend 33 percent more on travel than non-LGBT travelers and travel an average of four to six times annually, according to a report from Community Marketing & Insights, a research firm focusing on the LGBTQ community. [See the report embedded below.]
The report also found that LGBTQ Americans travel internationally more frequently than the general U.S. population. Some 77 percent of LGBTQ survey participants held a valid passport compared to 36 percent of the general U.S. population, the report found.
While older LGBTQ travelers may be well aware of the need for vetting a destination, their younger counterparts may not be, said Jeff Sirota of J.Mak Hospitality.
“You have older generation LGBTQ who are still thinking, ‘OK, I want to make sure it’s a gay-friendly hotel’ or ‘I want to make sure I’m going to be amongst other LGBT people,’ and you have a younger generation who is just so used to being integrated,” he said. “I think you see a bit of a juxtaposition there.”
For some LGBTQ millennials accustomed to expressing affection in public, it can be surprising to learn same-sex relationships are banned in many countries, including a handful in the Caribbean, Sirota said.
“I don’t think you ever want to deter somebody from exploring a new place because the beauty of travel is exploring a destination, but I think there needs to be a word of caution sometimes,” he said.
Peter Lloyd, regional director-south for Travel Edge, noted that in some Middle Eastern countries expressions of same-sex affection can lead to imprisonment.
“You have to be very sensitive,” he said. “You have to be careful about the resort or the island that you go to.”
The key for travel advisors is to ask the right questions and not assume things, said David Rubin, CEO of David Travel, which has catered to LGBTQ luxury travelers since 1996.
With any type of booking for two guests, ask how many beds the guests would like, he advised. Rubin also recommends querying travelers whether they are interested in any particular cultural scene in a city.
“Don’t assume that because someone is gay that they are into drag shows and partying,” Rubin said.
While anti-gay laws and norms may be in place in some parts of the world, Rubin said that doesn’t mean travelers have to avoid those places entirely.
For instance, David Travel recently put together a 90-day around-the-world honeymoon for a gay couple that made stops in Ethiopia and Dubai. Knowing the particular nuances of each destination was essential.
“I said for a few of the places you are visiting in the north of Ethiopia it is really better that we book you a room with two separate beds and it’s better if you go under the radar,” Rubin said. “With that in mind, let’s have you go there. In Dubai, open displays of affection, not a great idea. Sharing a bed and being open in the hotel, fine.”
Instead of coordinating a party with locals in town, Rubin recommended a dinner party at the home of a resident he was familiar with.
“Our clients are travelers, first and foremost, and they have a passion for visiting places,” Rubin said. “I’m not going to tell a client they shouldn’t go somewhere, but I am going to be very careful in sharing what the laws are, what the norms are and what acceptable behavior would be. Then the client can decide.”
For travel advisors who are new to working with LGTBQ clients, Rubin suggests getting involved in the International LGBTQ+ Travel Association and going to a Community Marketing & Insights seminar.
“I think most good agents can be resourceful and sort out those things but I think it’s good for people to get involved with the gay and lesbian travel association,” he said.