The wants and needs of the LGBTQ+ community are maturing. For one, many now have families with children. It requires tour operators to recognize the need for a nuanced approach that goes beyond stereotyping this travel segment.
The default perception for the LGBTQ+ travel market brings to mind Pride parades and dance festivals that resonate with gay solo travelers or same-sex couples.
However, it couldn’t be further from the emerging trend of LGBTQ+ family travel, said David Ryan, founder and CEO of Rhino Africa and Out2Africa, a bespoke LGBTQ+ tour operator based in South Africa.
Ryan, who has been in the safari industry for more than 19 years, told Skift that it’s something he has noted, even as revenge luxury travel and multi-gen travel saw same-sex couples spending in excess of $23,000 on a 10-day, multi-stop experience across Southern and Eastern Africa during 2022, for example.
Out2Africa chief of sales officer Waathiq Hilton said while the company does not specifically breakout its bookings data into LGBTQ+ families, as it does specifically with same-sex couples, the average booking data for 2022 showed a 40 percent increase of LGBTQ+ travel overall, when compared to 2019, with an average booking value for the period sitting at $13 600 for a 12-day trip.
Hilton said the traction for Out2Africa’s LGBTQ+ curated offering has gained significant traction compared to 2019, with the company’s recovery marketing budget seeing visitors to its platform exceed forecast projections by 40 percent, to reach 140 percent.
“Our conversion of visitors to our platform to actual dropped enquiries, and then enquiries to bookings has also seen a 50 percent increase against 2019’s performance.
“This tells us confidence in traveling to Africa from the LGBTQ+ community has increased. Previously there was high interest, but they were not ready to commit. We saw high visitor volume but low conversion, but this has changed over the last three to four years, with an increase in visitors who not only make an inquiry but then book travel with us,” said Hilton.
Ryan added that LGBTQ+ family travel is an “emerging trend that is the complete opposite of the previous stereotype for gay solo or couple travel.”
“It never before encompassed traveling families. This speaks to the progressive side of surrogacy laws,” he added, as more same-sex couples chose to expand their families by having surrogate pregnancies or children through adoption.
Even more counter-intuitive to this emerging trend is the harsh anti-gay law passed by the Southern African country Uganda on Tuesday, said to protect the family values of Ugandans. Seen as one of the world’s strictest laws criminalizing homosexuals with the death penalty for certain offences, and further making those aware of homosexual tendencies or behavior accomplices to this alleged crime.
Dubbed the “2023 Anti-Homosexuality Bill,” Amnesty International urged Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni to veto the law criticizing it as “a grave assault on LGBTQ people and is contemptuous of the Ugandan constitution.”
‘Gay Laws Are Outdated’
“When you enlist a travel advisor in the luxury segment, you are looking for a tailor-made itinerary whether you are gay or straight. As experts on African safari destinations, services and product knowledge, we don’t sell anything that we’ve not experienced or seen.
“We offer the guest through Out2Africa expert on-the-ground knowledge to make them feel secure and safe about visiting destinations that would not usually be on an LGBTQ+ itinerary.
Yet, for most African countries, the gay laws are outdated, suggested Ryan.
“South Africa, with one of the most liberal constitutions in the world, sets the example as an LGBTQ+ friendly destination. But everything north of the Limpopo River is considered not gay-friendly, and that’s not the case,” he added.
LGBTQ+ Welcoming Brands
“We work with companies like Wilderness Safaris and &Beyond that are all very LGBTQ+ welcoming brands and we have had no guest issues,” Ryan said. As a result, the luxury tailored safari product is well suited to this emerging family travel market, as it has been geared up to meet the multi-generational needs of families across the board for quite a while.
He believes the anti-gay stance would negatively impact Uganda’s tourism, noting the socially conscious mindset of the LGBTQ+ travel community, who are unlikely to want to support an unwelcoming destination.
“Uganda has been on our radar for a long time. I believe the government is being very short-sighted in terms of the LGBTQ+ travel segment, which sees higher spending and better repeat frequency,” he added.
Out2Africa booking data showed the LGBTQ+ market repeat travel frequency was “once every two years, versus straight guests that travel once every three to four years.”
Complex Travel Segment Needing Nuanced Approach
John Tanzella, president and CEO of the International LGBTQ+ Travel Association (IGLTA), a global network for advancing LGBTQ+ travel, believes this is a complex travel segment requiring a nuanced approach other than just gay-friendly or not gay-friendly.
Tanzella explained that, as an organization, they would never tell tourists not to visit a particular destination. He rationalized that, instead, marginalized LGBTQ+ communities needed tourism support precisely because of the lack of equal rights they faced.
While Uganda is an extreme case, he said many destinations where being part of the LGBTQ+ community is frowned upon or had no equal rights, did in fact have a thriving gay community.
“There’s a huge gay community in Jamaica. We try to help the LGBTQ+ organizations thrive because they get no support from the corporate community or the government. It’s a popular destination for the general public, but if the LGBTQ+ people go to Jamaica, they get to support the LGBTQ+ nonprofits who are just so underfunded. There’s so many kids there that get thrown out of the house if their parents find out they’re gay. These nonprofits are trying to help these kids.”
He added that while Uganda is a real extreme case, they had travelers who still go there because they want to experience the gorilla safaris.
“We advise being very mindful of the laws and of the culture and use an experienced tour guide there.”
Being faced with anti-gay sentiment is one thing, but it takes on new proportions when you are a family with children. Safety and a supportive environment are non-negotiable for all parents, he acknowledged.
Tanzella believes destination marketing needs to mature yet remain authentic regarding the LGBTQ+ segment, especially since the family travel aspect is becoming more prevalent within the community. He said it was all too common for LGBTQ+ marketing to pander to “stock images of two well-groomed, white males.”
“That’s not diverse or appealing to lesbians, for example,” he added, highlighting an example where New York City had enlisted only locals in their marketing imagery in a push to show the city as an authentic “melting pot” of diverse cultures.
“Couples who have kids, whether it’s surrogacy, adoption, or blended families have given rise to exclusive family trip experiences for LGBTQ+ families,” Tanzella said, noting that it can be “difficult for children”, and “the needs of LGBTQ+ families were not necessarily the same as non-gay families.”
“Let’s say they have two moms. Kids will ask, well, where’s your daddy? You know, that type of thing. So these trips create safe spaces for LGBTQ+ families. Specifically, they feel they can relate to the other people on the trip. It’s like being with people with common interests and values. We work with a tour company in New York called R Family Vacations, and that’s all they do, family vacations. And they’re doing great work within the community.”
“It’s a growing area within the community, and it’s becoming more accepted around the world. Not everywhere, of course, but it is happening.”
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Tags: multi-day tours, multigenerational travel, tourism, tours and activities, Travel Experiences, Travel Trends