5 Tips to Make Your Travel Agency LGBTQ Friendly (or Friendlier)
Hey travel agents! PRIDE is now a fond memory as the Pride Parade confetti settles like rainbow snow right before the US ramps up for a July 4th firework fest. But even though Pride Month is celebrated once a year, the LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer)1 community is gay all year long—probably even lifelong ;). So what better time to chat about how to make your travel agency more LGBTQ friendly and let the pride spirit live on in your agency :)
As a gay/queer traveler myself, I was surprised to see in our most recent Travel Agent Income Survey results that only 3.4% of travel agents reported that LGBTQ travel was a part of their specialty. To me this seemed like a missed opportunity for travel agents to cater to a loyal clientele base, as well as a lost opportunity for the LGBTQ traveling community to benefit from travel agents that are attuned to some of the particular challenges LGBTQ travelers face when they travel.
But there’s an easy solution to this! But before we get there . . . a little groundwork.
Some travel data on the LGBTQ demographic
According to the 2017 United Nations World Tourism Organization’s Second Global Report on LGBT Tourism,2 “approximately 36 million overnight visitors who travelled to international destinations around the world last year were part of the LGBT community.” That’s a whole lot of people.
Plus, a May 2017 presentation by the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association’s (IGLTA) Tom Roth (President of Community Marketing and Insights) and David Paisley (Senior Research Director of Community Marketing and Insights) reported that the “LGBT make up 5% of the adult population” and “About $100B in travel spend per year, in the U.S. alone. Surveys show that LGBT travel patterns index at about 1.5 to 2 times the average American.”3
This is a lot of travel.
What is the LBGTQ community?
Maybe part of why your agency is nervous to cater to the LGBTQ community is you’re not exactly sure who they are, how to reach them, or if they want to work with a straight agency. Let me ease your concerns.
The LGBTQ community—check out a comprehensive list of terms here, if you're curious—is a fragmented and diverse population with representation all across the political, gender, cultural, economic, geographical, and age spectrum. They have diverse interests and travel for the same reasons their non-LGBTQ counterparts—for fun, relaxation, destination weddings and honeymoons, family time (or to avoid family!?), adventure, cultural experiences and every other reason under the sun!
Yes. Out there somewhere, there is probably a gay version of you (unless, like me, you are the gay version of yourself). The LGBTQ community’s travel needs and desires are not uniform, in fact they reflect the diversity of travel niches travel agents already pursue.
What does this mean? This means that you are very likely already selling a product that certain segments of the LGBTQ community are seeking out. Catering your services to the LGBTQ community is not 180º shift in your speciality. Rather, you can look at it as tweaking your marketing efforts to ensure that you’re reaching the broadest client base possible and developing a greater expertise of products and destinations that you already sell.
But I’m not gay so that means I shouldn’t try selling to the LGBTQ community, right?
Wrong! I am here to disabuse you of the notion that you must identify as gay to make your business friendly to the LGBTQ community. Allyship (that is, being a friend of the LGBTQ community) goes a long way. In fact, extending your business to the LGBTQ community won’t only appeal to folks who identify as gay, but it appeals to the mainstream as well.
In regard to millennial population, the same study mentioned above, “found that young people from this generation prefer to be part of a business that behaves responsibly towards society, with almost nine in ten (87%).” When speaking to John Tanzella about IGLTA membership, he mentioned that all members don’t necessarily identify as gay, but that, “They’re at least welcoming or have family member that is interested.”
Are you welcoming? If I can make a general assumption based on my personal experiences travel agents, I’m guessing there’s a good chance you are.
I’m Totally Down. What does it mean to be LGBTQ friendly?
Though it’s totally fun and amazing to have giant rainbow flags hanging on storefront windows, that’s not a prerequisite to be considered LGBTQ friendly. But here are a few ways that come to mind to express a commitment to working with the LGBTQ community:
- A commitment to not making assumptions about one’s gender, sexual identity or marital status.
- An explicitly inclusive mission, sign of support, or welcoming of the LGBTQ community on website and/or marketing materials.
- A general understanding of and willingness to use inclusive terminology: A note on this—Of course you don’t need to commit this whole list to memory, but it’s a great resource if/when you run into a term you may not be familiar with (some of these terms are newer to me too). You’ll probably make mistakes using the terms at first and it’s totally okay. Everyone does . . . even people who are a part of the LGBTQ community.
- A basic understanding of specific risks and challenges the LGBTQ community may face while traveling. When risks are present, they can range from from an unwelcoming environment and feeling uncomfortable to more extreme risks of hostile cultural or political policies against same-sex couples or individuals who are transgender. This New York Times article offers a very basic overview things LGBTQ travelers may need to consider. This article by Dopes on the Road (travel bloggers) offers suggestions for LGBTQ travelers to stay safe while hitting the road (and frankly, many of these tips are a great resource for mainstream travelers as well). And don’t worry, there are tons more resources to come! Read on!
- Willingness to advocate for your LGBTQ clients while they’re traveling if they encounter any challenges.
- A willingness to learn more about your travel products and destinations and how they might cater to (or exclude) the LGBTQ community more specifically.
What it really comes down to is making some intentional business decisions that are welcoming to LGBTQ travelers. Maybe you already are totally open and welcoming. If that’s the case, then it might just be your job just to let people know!
In a service-driven industry like travel agencies, where “business transactions” rely heavily on relationship-building, I personally rely on my LGBTQ friends for quality referrals above and beyond my non-queer counterparts. This is likely true for many others as well.
The LGBTQ community is a loyal clientele base and tends to be close-knit—especially on a local level. I guarantee that if you succeed in making efforts to ensure your travel agency is LGBTQ friendly, that you will not only receive some loyal life-long clients, but you’ll get some great referrals too.
I chatted a bit with John Tanzella, President of IGLTA, and together we brainstormed a few strategies to make your travel agency LGBTQ friendly.
5 Tips to Assert Your Travel Agency as LGBTQ Friendly (or Friendlier)
1. Use IGLTA as a Resource
The IGLTA is a treasure trove of information for travel agents, and the site attracts the attention of LGBTQ travelers that are seeking out gay-friendly suppliers and travel agencies.
According to John, “With membership you get a unique profile on your website that you can add your agency. The use of our logo is really powerful because it’s such a recognizable logo in the industry.” As an added bonus, John also says that when it comes to the IGLTA, “We try to market our members to travelers.”
Even if you can’t swing the cost of membership ($245 for a travel agency with 1-5 employees), IGLTA has some great resources travel agencies can use. You can find LGBTQ-friendly suppliers if you’re researching a trip for a client. If you specialize in a destination, you can refer to International Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Trans & Intersex (IGLA) 2017 map which illustrates sexual orientation laws by country (some countries criminalize homosexuality).
This way you can gauge how friendly your destination is to the LGBTQ community, and connect with resources in those destinations.
2. Take advantage of LGBTQ Education at Conferences
The IGLTA has a buy-supplier annual conference. According to John, “It’s free for travel agents to attend if they want to participate in the buyer-supplier marketplace. There’s tons of trainings and education and networking events from small business to large corporate business practices. It’s in May every year. This year it’s In Toronto. We also do panel discussion in NYT Travel show, and Virtuoso week in Vegas.”
If you attend a conference and it does not include any LGBTQ-specific panels or resources, consider asking the conference planner if they would consider providing that kind of resource in the future! If they see there’s a demand for it, then this could shift what offerings are provided to agents in the future.
3. Express Solidarity on Your Website:
This can look a lot of different ways. It could be anything from a few notes on your site that say something like, “everyone welcome,” “we support the LGBTQ community,” “LGBTQ-friendly,” or “LGBTQ-owned business” (if it’s true, obviously). A rainbow flag icon would help draw attention to this as well.
If you include pictures on your site, include some pictures that show same-sex couples . . . representation goes a long way! I personally am waaaaay more likely to remember and have a positive association with an ad or commercial that includes a same-sex couples.
It can also mean putting a tab on your destinations to include LGBTQ destinations or products. Travel Blogger, Nomadic Matt, has an LGBTQ guest-blogging section of his site, which was a great way to express solidarity by giving exposure LGBTQ travel bloggers mainstream access. That being said . . .
4. Follow a few LGBTQ Travel Bloggers:
This is a great way to get a first hand pulse on LGBTQ travel experiences and to get a sense of what destinations may be more friendly (or not) to LGBTQ travelers. It’s a great way to gauge their experiences at different destinations and your newfound knowledge will benefit all your clients.
Here’s a few I recommend:
- Lez Backpack focuses on South and SE Asia and the US as destinations. Their site caters to women travelers, and seems to appeal to a Millennial (or early Gen X) audience.
- Travels of Adam includes not only info on loads of destinations, but it also has links to other resources and blogs about LGBTQ travel resources.
- High Society Hobo is written by Adam, a self-proclaimed foodie. His site includes write-ups on a ton of destinations and includes a blog section called, "Where the Pros Go," a guest blog series where other LGBTQ travel bloggers contribute articles about some of their favored travel destinations.
- Dopes on the Road has cool resources to help agents educate LGBTQ travelers on what they might expect on the road.
I was not able to find a transgender (trans) specific travel blog . . . if you know of one you recommend, hit me up! There is definitely a need for one!
In the meantime, if you want to position yourself as a travel agent ally to the transgender community, it’s important to understand that the transgender (and gender-queer) community is at a much greater risk of discrimination while traveling compared to their LGB or straight peers. They are more likely to be flagged by security during the body scanning process and to be subjected to humiliating body searches or pat down. Travel and Leisure has an article with some info on how to help make that process less painful––information that’s helpful for travel agents to know so they can educate their trans-identified clients.
The IGLTA is also soon to start a travel a blog. John gave me a little insider info, “We’re starting a blog site in the next quarter, but we do work with 400 travel writers, bloggers, and influencers. We work with them quite frequently.”
This is by no means a conclusive list. No siree. But it’s a great start to get your feet wet in the world of LGBTQ blogging.
5. Start Networking Locally
“Starting locally is always a really good thing,” according to John. “Start making those contacts. Go to the chamber of commerce and reach out to LGBTQ businesses.” Many cities have a LGBTQ segment of their Chamber of Commerce. If not, there may be other business associations that focus on the LGBTQ community. And even if your local networking group does not have an LGBTQ-chapter, focus on looking for groups that include a diverse population of business owner (this is good advice for anyone!). Need a little jump start? This article has loads of resources of how to choose a networking group. But here’s a few ideas to start engaging with an LGBTQ clientele:
- Set up a booth at your nearest Pride festival next summer (at the end of June, regardless of where you live).
- Consider advertising in local LGBTQ publications (Minneapolis’, for example, is Lavender).
- Engage with local LGBTQ events . . . if, for example, the Gay Men’s Chorus is having a silent auction, consider donating a gift basket to them and/or showing up to their fundraiser.
- When you do these 3 easy steps to find more clients, make sure you intentionally include stopping by some LGBTQ-owned (or friendly) businesses such as coffee shops, bookstores, yoga studios or even sex toy stores . . . I’m not kidding! This may sound unconventional, but what better place to target people looking for romance travel, honeymoon, or destination bachelorette/bachelor parties! Don’t be shy ;) Ask if you can leave a few business cards or fliers.
In Conclusion . . .
If you’ve made it this far, then you must definitely be interested and invested in extending your travel services to the LGBTQ community! I have sincere gratitude for your interest in support! Since I threw a ton of info at you . . .
Here’s a Quick Recap of Resources and Links:
- A list of LGBTQ Terminology
- An NYT article on planning a safe trip for LGBTQ travelers
- 40 Safety Tips for LGBT Travelers by Dopes on the Road
- A Link to the IGLTA
- A Map of Sexual Orientation Laws (so you can see how your destinations measure up)
A Few LGBTQ Travel Blogs to check out
- Lez Backpack
- Travels of Adam
- Two Moms Travel and 2TravelDads.
- High Society Hobo
- Nomadic Matt’s LGBTQ guest-blogging section
- Travel and Leisure’s Tips for Transgender Travelers
- A Super Awesome Power Point Presentation by the IGLTA on, “How to Connect with LGBT Travelers”
Did I forget something? Probably. If you have questions, comments, or additional resources please comment below or email me at [email protected]. I’d love to hear from you!
- Lesbian: A woman primarily attracted to women. Gay: Someone who is attracted to the same sex. Bisexual (bi): Someone attracted to people of their own gender and another gender. Transgender (trans): An umbrella term for someone who does not identify with the gender/sex they were assigned at birth. Queer: An umbrella term that refers to LGBT folks, which can also be used for individuals who identify as genderqueer or gender fluid (regardless of sexual orientation). This term is commonly used within the LGBTQ community and be can considered offensive/derogatory when used outside that context. ↩
- http://cf.cdn.unwto.org/sites/all/files/pdf/lgtb_report_compressed_pdf ↩
- http://www.communitymarketinginc.com/documents/temp/CMI-IGLTA_2017_LGBT-Travel-Orientation.pdf ↩