Despite the LGBTQ+ community's growing clout in the travel industry, many travelers in the rapidly growing segment still face enormous challenges. Here's a look at how Skift has covered the progress LGBTQ+ travelers have seen as well as the setbacks the group has encountered.
The LGBTQ+ travel market has grown enormously in recent years, becoming one of the most lucrative segments in the industry. LGBTQ+ travelers were worth an estimated $218 billion worldwide prior to the pandemic, with the LGBTQ+ community in the U.S. alone spending roughly 10 percent of its purchasing power on travel.
With their clout in the travel industry is poised to grow even more in years to come, it’s a good time to examine how Skift has covered LGBTQ+ travel throughout the years. Skift Research said in a 2014 report that while LGBTQ+ travel might be booming, marketing strategies and diversity awareness were still evolving at a business level.
So have travel brands improved marketing to the LGBTQ+ community? How have travel companies responded to the needs of LGBTQ+ travelers? Are they running the risk of ignoring the market at their own peril as one travel executive indicated in a Skift guest column?
We provide answers to those questions as well as a glimpse into the challenges LGBTQ+ travelers have faced and more as covered by Skift.
Marketing to LGBQ+ Travelers
Skift has frequently tackled marketing efforts toward LGBTQ+ travelers, with Skift Research noting in its aforementioned 2014 report that most players in the travel and tourism industry actively court the LGBTQ+ market.
And they’ve included destinations throughout the U.S. As LGBTQ+ travelers consider whether a destination is welcoming as one of the main factors in trip planning, Skift highlighted Fort Lauderdale in a July 2015 article as one city that successfully made inroads with members of the community. Roughly 1.5 million LGBTQ+ travelers visited Fort Lauderdale the previous year, spending $1.5 billion in the city. Richard Gray, the LGBT managing director for the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau, credited the city’s success to having a dedicated marketing plan for LGBTQ+ travelers.
Skift has also covered LGBTQ+-focused marketing efforts in other sectors of travel, including Marriott’s #LoveTravels campaign launched in June 2014 that featured same-sex couples and transgender individuals staying at its properties. Marriott, long supportive of the LGBTQ+ community, is one of several major hotel companies that’s conducting significant outreach to LGBTQ+ travelers year-round, instead of primarily during Pride Month in June.
But as the needs and preferences of LGBTQ+ travelers vary according to their ages, travel brands have also struggled at times to effectively market themselves to members of the community, a subject Skift delved into in June 2021. That’s despite several travel experts expressing optimism in a Skift article the previous year that the LGBTQ+ community could be the first group to travel en masse coming out of the pandemic.
“There’s certainly a much narrow marketing feel to the gay market,” said David Rappel, an advisor at luxury travel agency Protravel International. He added the basic pitch to households comprised of two childless male adults was come visit and spend money.
In addition, Tom Ho, a colleague of Rappel’s, acknowledged he didn’t see any marketing geared toward LGBTQ+ travelers during the heart of the pandemic. Ho said he saw bland reminders from destinations saying, more or less, “We’re still here. Don’t forget us. Hope to see you soon when we open back up again.”
Challenges Encountered by LGBTQ+ Travelers
Skift has addressed the challenges LGBTQ+ travelers face throughout the years. Business trips in particular can be fraught with difficulty, especially when traveling to destinations where same-sex relationships are criminalized. And that’s even the case in countries that have legalized same-sex marriage, like the U.S.
“There are … places in our country where gay people still face extraordinary discrimination. That’s also true globally,” said Billy Kolber, founder of ManAboutWorld, a New York-based digital travel magazine geared toward gay men.
“You can’t be yourself when you go to these places,” said Jeremy Wilkes, LGBT travel adviser for beTravelwise, a U.K.-based travel safety training and education provider. “You have to moderate your behavior. It’s not an easy thing to talk about and get right policy-wise.”
More recently, Skift wrote about how the wave of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation has complicated trip planning for tour operators, especially for companies looking to take guests to destinations enacting discriminatory laws, most notably Florida. Several tour operators executives said in a May 2022 article they had to weigh the concerns of guests wary of visit unfriendly locations while not closing the door on destinations popular with LGBTQ+ travelers.
Florida passed a law in March 2022 barring public school teachers from kindergarten through third grade from discussing matters related to sexual orientation or gender identify, which critics have dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. The state’s legislators also revoked the Walt Disney Company’s self-governing status in Florida in response to Disney executives speaking out against the legislation.
“It’s difficult because on one hand we do not support the racist, homophobic policies of (Florida) Governor (Ron) DeSantis,” said Gregg Kaminsky, co-founder of New York-based R Family Vacations, a company that creates vacations specifically for LGBTQ+ families and friends.
“But then (Florida’s) Broward County is probably the most outwardly welcoming destination in our country, so we are invited there with open arms and included in every piece of tourism marketing they put out.”
Outside of the U.S, David Ryan, founder and CEO of South African-based tour operator Out2Africa, said in a March 2023 article that Uganda recently enacting some of the world’s harshest anti-gay laws is making the country unappealing for his guests. Ryan had described Uganda as a country that was on Out2Africa’s radar, but he added that LGBTQ+ travelers are unlikely to support what they consider an unwelcoming destination.
Skift has also touched on issues specifically affecting transgender travelers. Many transgender travelers have described the airport screening process as distressing, which drove the TSA to release a video in April 2017 informing them what their options if they didn’t want to receive a full body scan using a body imaging machine or metal detector. The TSA assured transgender travelers they could request a pat-down from an officer of the gender they identify with.
In addition, transgender travelers have found that finding suitable information from travel advisors can be difficult. John Tanzella, president and CEO of the International LGBTQ+ Travel Association, argued that information specific to transgender and non-binary travelers is lacking even in the LGBTQ+ travel space.
Advances for LGBTQ+ Travelers
Skift has covered developments that have significantly benefited LGBTQ+ travelers, including the widespread support travel brands issued for the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling that legalized same-sex marriage throughout the country. Travel companies said the decision would drive businesses across the U.S. to capitalize on the boom in same-sex weddings, which had already happened in Niagara Falls, New York.
Some of those stories have centered on travelers who don’t identify as male or female, including the U.S. issuing its first-ever non-binary passport in October 2021. The U.S. followed in the footsteps of countries like Canada, Germany, Australia and India that had already permitted its citizens to select an X gender maker on their official travel documents. The following year, United Airlines announced in March 2022 it was the first U.S. airline to update its booking systems to provide travelers the option to select a gender other than male or female. Delta Air Lines also announced it was in the process of making a similar move.
Skift highlighted the same month Cuba being home to two hotels geared toward LGBTQ+ guests after the opening of the Telégrafo Axel Hotel La Habana. Those hotels represented a major milestone for a country historically hostile to its LGBTQ+ community. LGBTQ+ rights activists were among the hundreds arrested during anti-government protests in Cuba in July 2021.
Finally, one of the 12 travel tech startups taking part in the first cohort of Expedia Group’s Open World Accelerator program is Misterb&b, a Paris-based short-term rental booking platform dedicated to the LGBTQ+ travelers. CEO Matthieu Jost said all hosts and guests on Misterb&b, which has more than 1 million properties on its platform, are members of the LGBTQ+ community.
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Photo credit: A collage created by Skift Creative Strategist Aishwarya Agarwal Aishwarya Agarwal