Skift Take

It’s a big risk to ignore the LGBTQ traveler. Why? Because this community is ready to reward the destinations and brands that pay attention to it.

Series: Viewpoint

For our Viewpoint series, Skift invites thought leaders, some from the less obvious corners of travel, to join in the conversation. We know that these independent voices are important to the dialogue within the industry. Our guest columnists will identify and shape what global trends and through lines will define the future of travel.

I recently read a story about the small beach town of Zipolite and the gist was that its culture is changing because it’s being overrun by too many gays. In a curious case of “What year is this?,” the point of the piece was to say that too many queers were causing this Mexican community’s bohemian spirit to vanish.

“As accepting as many locals are, some feel that Zipolite’s identity as a laid-back town that welcomes anyone from Mexican families to Canadian retirees is being eroded, that it is transforming into a gay party town,” the story said. It’s a place where “the LGBTQ population has surged: gay bars and hotels have multiplied, rainbow flags are commonplace.”

So what does it mean to be an LGBTQ traveler? It’s a question that can be answered in so many different ways depending on whom you ask.

I will never say that the LGBTQ community travels better than anyone else. What I will argue is that we are more aware when we travel.

We have to be more aware than others because we want to feel safe when we travel. We want to feel welcome. We also want to be seen — not just during Pride months but every day. 

As a group, we pay attention to the brands that pay attention to us, and reward those who do. 

We notice the companies that conveniently come out once a year during Pride because everyone else is doing it and then disappear after the rainbow washing is complete

We appreciate the hotel chains, the airlines, the car rental companies, the fashion labels, the retailers and the restaurants that casually incorporate gay couples into their regular marketing campaigns as if the inclusive visuals were always there.

We also seek out the destinations that treat us with respect and make us feel better about ourselves and the world around us. 

I’ve stayed in hotels in some of the world’s most homophobic countries, but didn’t feel shunned when checking in with my husband. That matters and builds incredible brand equity that lasts. Hospitality should clearly be for everyone.

These are certainly strange times. I feel for the transgender community that is being discriminated against in states like Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Ohio by politicians who feel threatened. 

I also wonder, where does it stop? One law against members of the LGBTQ community could easily and quickly become another. A company like the Walt Disney Company is being punished because it said something — nevermind how awkwardly it did it — against anti-LGBTQ legislation. 

But when does a Disney stop sticking up for gays entirely? When does a city like New Orleans put down its grenade-shaped cocktails and see me, my friends and loved ones as an other, a threat to its city’s culture? How long before it becomes OK to hate again?

The LGBTQ community is hyper aware and paying close attention to all of this. And we will take our money elsewhere. 

It’s estimated that before the pandemic, the LGBTQ travel market was worth more than $218 billion worldwide. The LGBTQ community in the U.S. spends 10 percent of its purchasing power, or nearly $100 billion, on travel.

I can’t object to that. My bank account agrees wholeheartedly.

Like frequent Zipolite visitor Roberto Jerr, we as LGBTQ travelers want “a place where we can be whoever we want. … Everyone in the community should visit a place where they can feel comfortable, where they can feel free.”

That’s not a lot to ask for, is it?

The tourism boards and visitors bureaus that understand that will be greatly appreciated and well compensated, in return. See us, court us, welcome us. Your culture is safe with us.

Marc Graser is vice president of global brand storytelling for the NMG Network. This column first appeared in NMG’s LGBTQ publication Lei.

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Tags: gay, gay travel, lgbt, LGBT travel, lgbtq, mexico, viewpoint