5 Tips to Make Your Travel Agency LGBTQ+ Friendly (or Friendlier)

June 11, 2021

HAPPY INTERSECTIONAL PRIDE! It's hard to have a virtual parade so on the HAR site, we like to celebrate the occasion with data and travel agent resources to help promote safe and fun LGBTQAI+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning, Asexual/Allied, Intersex) travel.

The LGBTQIA+ community is ready to hit the road when it comes to travel.

What fun with data, you ask? Well, as you can see, my idea of fun spans a huge Kaleidoscope spectrum, just like gender and sexuality :) Truly, I love it. Every year I get to visit this article and update it with the latest info on LGBTQAI+ travel data and resources.

The good news for 2021 is that the LGBTQIA+ community is ready to hit the road when it comes to travel. According to the IGLTA foundation's Post COVID travel survey, 85% of LGBTQ+ travelers reported having a passport compared to a scant 42% of US citizens. Beyond that, 29.5% of LGBTQ+ travelers reported making bookings in early spring 2021 compared to only 15.8% of US travelers overall. [Source: IGLTA Foundation's "2021 LGBTQ+ Post Covid Travel Survey United States Results"]

This is where you, dear travel advisor, make your entrance . . .

Not a whole lot of travel advisors specialize in selling LGBTQAI+ travel (.6% in 2020, to be exact). So if you feel unfamiliar with this enthusiastic travel segment, don't worry. The good news is that you are likely already selling the types of trips that many LGBTQAI+ travelers want to take. This is where I make my entrance:

John Tanzella, IGLTA President
John Tanzella, IGLTA President

1. According to IGLTA (International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association) President, John Tanzella "LGBTQ+ travel spans the gamut of destinations and travel styles, but ultimately it’s about travel experiences that make LGBTQ+ people feel safe and welcome and free to be themselves."

To me, this sounds suspiciously like what all travelers want. Planning a trip for LGBTQAI+ clients doesn't necessarily mean reinventing the wheel, but it does entail thoroughly qualifying your clients to understand how to meet their travel needs. This leads me to . . .

2. After taking 10 min. to read this article you'll have a better understanding of LGBTQAI+ travelers and the resources to research and plan trips to make them feel safe, welcome, and free to be themselves.

Hurray! Let's get started! 🌈🌈🌈

See some LGBTQAI+ lingo you don't recognize? Don't stress. Just click on the word, and you'll be taken to our brief glossary of LGBTQAI+ terms. Try it now! LGBTQAI+

⭐️5 Steps to make your agency LGBTQAI+ Friendly (The crib notes) ⭐️

  1. Understand the LGBTQAI+ Travel Community: The latest LGBTQAI+ travel trends may not be what you expect. Learn a little bit about the LGBTQAI+ community, and check out IGLTA research to see if your agency aligns with the latest LGBTQAI+ travel types and destinations.
  2. Step up Your Travel LGBTQAI+ Travel Education: There's no LGBTQAI+ certification course to take or stamp to receive. But we have a few travel-specific LGBTQAI+ education resources (many free) that would make your agency worthy of one!
  3. Express Solidarity with the LGBTQAI+ Travel Community: Don't forget your LGBTQAI+ travelers when you create your marketing materials, social media collateral, and public presence.
  4. Qualify Your LGBTQAI+ Travelers: Even if your niche isn't LGBTQAI+ travelers, you're selling to that demographic. On your traveler interest survey, include a few additional questions to ask if there will be any LGBTQAI+ travelers on the trip.
  5. Qualify Your Suppliers & Destinations: Once you qualify your client, you'll have the framework for what you're looking for in a supplier to gauge if their LGBTQAI+ inclusivity aligns with the needs of your client. You can ask suppliers about their policies, staff training, and how their activities and event accommodate LGBTQAI+ travelers.

⭐️ Bonus: A Miniature Glossary of LGBTQAI+ Terms: A basic knowledge of LGBTQAI+ terms will help you have a better understanding of your LGBTQAI+ client base. In the article, we will provide a link to our glossary when we use specific terms.



1. Understand the LGBTQAI+ Travel Community

Maybe you're nervous to cater to the LGBTQAI+ community because you’re not exactly sure who they are, how to reach them, or if they want to work with a mainstream travel agency. I'm here to ease your concerns.

The LGBTQAI+ community (check out our brief glossary of terms here) is a fragmented and diverse population with representation all across the racial, political, gender, cultural, economic, geographical, and age spectrum. They have diverse interests and travel for the same reasons their straight counterparts—for fun, relaxation, destination weddings and honeymoons, family time, adventure, cultural experiences, business travel, and every other reason under the sun!

Making your agency inclusive to the LGBTQAI+ community is not a 180º shift in your speciality. It's a matter of adapting your marketing efforts and honing the expertise of products and destinations that you already sell.

LGBTQAI+ travel needs and desires are not uniform, falling across the spectrum of travel niches.

What does this mean? This means that you're likely already selling types of travel that LGBTQAI+ community members are seeking out. Making your agency inclusive to the LGBTQAI+ community is not a 180º shift in your specialty. It's a matter of adapting your marketing efforts and honing the expertise of products and destinations that you already sell.

So you may be asking, what makes LGBTQAI+ travelers different than their mainstream peers?


What is LGBTQAI+ Travel?

While LGBTQAI+ travel includes destinations, events, and activities are specific to the LGBTQAI+ community, it's certainly not limited to that.

When a 2019 Community Marketing Insights (CMI) survey asked 5,000+ LGBTQ+ travelers, Looking only at your trips in the past year, what type of traveler do you consider yourself to be? "LGBTQ Traveler" ranked as the 7th choice, with a 37% response rate.

LGBTQ+ travelers ranked identifying as a relaxation traveler (54%), local cuisine (49%), travel like a local (49%), nature traveler (42%), sightseer (41%), and history enthusiast (41%) above identifying their travel as LGBTQ traveler.1


What differentiates LGBTQAI+ Travelers from mainstream travelers?

80% of LGBTQAI+ travelers reported they would "not travel to a destination that treats their local LGBTQ community poorly."

While LGBTQAI+ travelers are interested in mainstream travel, the group also reports specific needs and travel concerns for any type of trip. For example, 80% of LGBTAI+ travelers reported they would "not travel to a destination that treats their local LGBTQ community poorly."

When it comes to suppliers, LGBTQIA+ travelers preferred hotels that were active allies to the LGBTQAI+ community. When asked, Which of these programs and outreach methods are important to you, when considering booking a hotel, or joining a hotel loyalty program? 78% of respondents felt it was important that the "hotel or brand has sexual orientation non-discrimination policies."

The majority of LGBTQAI+ travelers indicated they prioritized hotels and brands that provided diversity training to their staff, have gender non-discrimination policies, advertise in LGBTQAI+ media, and include LGBTQAI+ images on their website.

Additionally, the majority of LGBTQAI+ travelers indicated they prioritized hotels and brands that provided diversity training to their staff, have gender non-discrimination policies, advertise in LGBTQAI+ media, and include LGBTQAI+ images on their website.

The takeaway? The mainstream travel tastes of LGBTQAI+ travelers are not at the expense of this segment's preference for destinations and suppliers that are active allies to the LGBTQAI+ community. This includes you!


What does it mean to be LGBTQAI+ Friendly for a travel agent?

Though it’s totally fun and amazing to have giant rainbow flags hanging on storefront windows, that’s not a prerequisite to be considered LGBTQAI+ friendly (especially since the majority of travel agents are home-based).

Here are a few ways you professionally serve LGBTQAI+ clients:

  1. A commitment to not making assumptions about one’s gender, sexual identity, or marital status.
  2. 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 those who are a part of the LGBTQAI+ community. 
  3. A basic understanding of specific travel risks, challenges, and needs for the LGBTQAI+ community: When travel risks are present, they can range from an unwelcoming environment to more extreme risks of hostile cultural or political policies against same-sex couples or people who are transgender. This great interview in Unearth Women with Lee offers a candid, first-person account of the experience of traveling as someone who is trans/gender non-conforming. It highlights the advisors' critical role in understanding/anticipating these challenges as well as educating LGBTQAI+ travelers on queer and trans-friendly destinations and suppliers9 (or, at the very least, of their potential risks).

How do you go about doing this in a meaningful way? Read on.


2. Step Up Your LGBTQAI+ Travel Education

We offer a score of travel agent education resources on the site. But, beyond supplier training and special topics at conferences, there are not any programs or certifications (that we're aware of) that specifically target selling travel to the LGBTQAI+ market.

When it comes to piecing together LGBTQAI+ travel education, it's a bit on the DIY side. So how would you go about building your LGBTQAI+ travel-savvy? We have a few ideas on that.


1. Conference Education

The IGLTA hosts an annual travel conference dedicated to matters to LGBTQAI+ travel (which was postponed in 2020). This is the only conference centralized around this travel segment. But other travel conferences provide substantial LGBTQAI+ travel resources.

When I asked Tanzella about training opportunities he mentioned, "The New York Times Travel Show includes content on LGBTQ+ travel in its annual trade program and has a large LGBTQ+ travel pavilion on the show floor as does ITB Berlin. More and more travel shows are now incorporating some LGBTQ+ content, so travel advisors should look at agendas for the events coming to their area. Community Marketing & Insights produces a one-day LGBTQ+ Marketing & Advertising Symposium in NYC each year as well, and we have several IGLTA members that offer custom training products.

LGBTQ Travel Pavilion at NY Times Travel Show
LGBTQ Travel Pavilion at NY Times Travel Show

2. LGBTQAI+ RESEARCH & Resources for Travel Agents

Taking time to look at the latest LGBTQAI+ travel research goes a long way in helping travel agents understand the latest travel trends among that demographic. In a matter of twenty minutes, you can gain an understanding of the LGBTQAI+ travel demographic. This will help you glean marketing ideas and gain insights into how to better qualify clients and suppliers.

In the matter of twenty minutes, you can gain an understanding of the LGBTQAI+ travel demographic.

Here's are two primary resources for the LGBTQAI+ travel demographic:

  1. CMI (Community Marketing and Insights) conducts an annual survey of LGBTQAI+ travelers that offers invaluable insights on what this demographic prioritizes when they make travel choices. While this article has summarized some of its insights, you can find the full report here to take the pulse of the latest LGBTQAI+ travel trends and what marketing efforts are most effective in reaching this segment.
  2. Be sure to also check out CMI's latest survey results from their "Black LGBTQ Community Survey 2020/2021."
  3. IGLTA has an entire portion of their site dedicated to the latest LGBTQAI+ travel research, and it's available for free. Here you can also find a running list of CMI's (Community Marketing and Insights) reports from their annual survey of LGBTQAI+ travel segments. Read their latest report,
  4. A list of more LGBTQAI Terminology
  5. An (older by still relevant) NYT article on planning a safe trip for LGBTQ travelers
  6. 40 Safety Tips for LGBT Travelers by Dopes on the Road
  7. Travel and Leisure’s latest podcast featuring LGBTQAI+ travel stories and Tips for Transgender Travelers: Here, guest Aria Sa'id, the executive director of Compton's Transgender Cultural District, says "I tell trans people all the time, get TSA PreCheck, like getting Global Entry. It just saves you so much of the headache . . . that comes with traveling to start."
  8. IGLA's (International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association) maps of discriminatory laws around the world help advisors take the temperature of whether a destination is culturally affirming of LGBTQAI+ travelers, or potentially more hostile.


3. Express Solidarity with the LGBTQAI+ Travel Community

Fabo! Now you have a pulse on the LGBTQAI+ travel community and travel habits! It's time to do a little outreach. But how do you do that? It's actually pretty easy. Here are a few ways you can position your travel agency as an LGBTQAI+ ally.

LGBTQ Protest Signs - We Stand With You
LGBT Solidarity Rally in front of the Stonewall Inn | Photo Credit: mathiaswasik viaFlickr Creative Commons


1. Express Solidarity on Your Website

You can express solidarity on your website with an explicitly inclusive mission, a sign of support, or welcoming of the LGBTQ+ community. This can look a lot of different ways. It could be something as simple as saying:

  1. We support the LGBTQ+ community
  2. [Agency Name] is LGBTQ+ - friendly
You can express solidarity on your website with an explicitly LGBTQ+ inclusive mission, an explicit sign of support, or a welcoming phrase to LGBTQ+ travel community.

If you consider yourself savvy in the ways of LGBTQAI+ travel and have booked dedicated LGBTQAI+ groups or trips, brag about it in your bio. Don't be shy. You can also post an equal opportunity statement or an anti-discrimination policy on your website's footer.

If you cater to LGBTQAI+ travelers, you might also include a tab on your website that goes to LGBTQAI+ inclusive destinations, itineraries, or products.


2. LGBTQAI+ Representation Matters in social media & Marketing

Posting fun pics on your social media or your website? Don't forget to include inclusive imagery and representation of LGBTQAI+ community members. This might include showing same-sex couples, images of genderqueer/ gender-fluid/non-binary people or couples families, and diverse families.

You may think, oh it's not that big of a deal. But believe me. We notice, and it matters. I personally am waaaaay more likely to remember and have a positive association with an ad or commercial that includes same-sex couples (even if I don't care about the product). (Seriously. Try me.)

Brands support LGBTQ community on social media


3. STate YOur pronouns in your Email Signature/online bio:

Directly stating what pronouns you use in your email signature speaks volumes about your solidarity with those who aren't cisgender. Not everyone uses the most "common" pronouns, and not everyone may use pronouns that align with your ideas of their gender presentation.

How do you do this? It's easy. As a part of your marketing or branding, you probably have a nifty email signature with your name, title, links to all your social, and a fun travel quote. While you're at it, include your pronouns—they/them/their, she/her/hers, he/him/his (etc.).

Like this:


Pronouns in email signatures


To take it a step further, you can ask on your qualifying client forms what pronouns, including they/them/their, and a fill-in entry where they can write in their own. For those who don't use conventional binary pronouns, correcting misuse can be tiring. If you ask upfront, you'll save your client the trouble of needing to educate or correct you (and you save yourself some awkwardness from using the wrong pronouns).


4. Qualifying Your LGBTQAI+ Travelers

When qualifying LGBTQAI+ travelers, the first step is not to make assumptions. Booking a destination wedding for a bride and groom? There's a good chance they'll have LGBTQAI+ guests. Booking a girlfriend getaway? Don't assume some of the girlfriends don't have actual girlfriends at home.

Booking a girlfriend getaway? Don't assume some of the girlfriends don't have actual girlfriends at home.
Happy couple kissing

How do you find out? All you have to do is ask. We have an extensive resource on qualifying your travel clients, including a handy travel interest survey you can steal and brand to your agency to help you automate the process. If a client indicates there will be LGBTQAI+ travelers on their trip, then you can dig a little deeper.

Tanzella mentioned, "Travel advisors should never underestimate the importance of doing their homework, such as checking the latest IGLA [International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association] maps of discriminatory laws around the world that could impact their clients’ destination choices. Working with inbound tour operators who understand the needs of LGBTQAI+ travelers is also an excellent way to ensure their clients have a safe, welcoming experience."

Every LGBTQAI+ traveler will have different comfort levels when it comes to how friendly a destination or supplier is to LGBTQAI+ travelers. To meet their specific travel needs, you can ask a few additional qualifying questions to help you plan and book the best trip possible.

  1. Are you looking for an LGBTQAI+ hotspot? This would mean a destination or supplier that is known for focusing on LGBTQ+ specific spaces and events)
  2. How important is it to you that the destination is LGBTQAI+ friendly? Ideally, every destination would be LGBTQ+ friendly, but if a client/pied piper wants to go somewhere that's more hostile to LGBTQAI+ travelers, it would be a good idea for you to equip your client with resources (like the IGLA map) so they can come to their own conclusions).
  3. How important is it to you that the supplier (hotel/resort) is LGBTQAI+ friendly? A country with unfavorable anti-discrimination laws doesn't necessarily mean there aren't LGBTQAI+ friendly pockets. It all depends on the comfort level of your client!

Once you get a feel for what your client wants, you'll be well-equipped to vet suppliers.


5. Qualify Your Destinations and Suppliers

You're wiser in the ways of the LGBTQAI+ travel community and have qualified your clients down to whether they prefer Nespresso espresso singles (🙋🏻‍♀️) or single cups of Keurig coffee.

Now it's a matter of taking a few moments to take a few extra steps to qualify your destinations and suppliers as well.


1. Qualify LGBTQAI+ suppliers

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.

"You want suppliers that have a successful history with LGBTQAI+ clients so advisors cannot be afraid to ask them questions." - John Tanzella, IGLTA President

Including using IGLTA's supplier members as a resource to find LGBTQAI+ affirming suppliers, Tanzella offered other strategies to qualify suppliers:

"You want suppliers that have a successful history with LGBTQ+ clients so advisors cannot be afraid to ask them questions.

  1. Have they hosted many LGBTQ+ guests and what can they share about those experiences?
  2. Were they singles, couples, families?
  3. Have they had LGBTQ+ groups stay?
  4. Has their staff had any diversity training?
  5. What kinds of offerings are available in their area for LGBTQ+ guests?
Marriott Love Travels gay couple with kids

You can tell pretty quickly if someone is giving you generic information or feels awkward having the conversation, or if they actually have detailed responses that can then be verified." 

The IGLTA also has added amazing new LGBTQ+ travel guides to their site, for anyone to use. They are so thorough and helpful, it will almost feel like cheating.


2. Develop LGBTQAI+ Destination Expertise

According to CMI's latest survey, LGBTQ+ travelers overwhelming prioritize travel to LGBTQ+ friendly destinations as opposed to LGBTQ+ hotspots: 80% compared to 37% for gay/bi men; 81% compared to 23% for lesbian/bi women, and 79% compared to 35% for transgender and non-binary participants.2

LGBTQAI+ travelers overwhelmingly prioritize travel to LGBTQ+ friendly destinations as opposed to LGBTQ+ hotspots

The LGBTQAI+ travel community has different safety concerns in addition to those that mainstream travelers experience. Some "hot spot" travel destinations may even have unfavorable or even hostile laws and/or social attitudes toward the LGBTQAI+ community.

This doesn't mean that LGBTQAI+ travelers won't want to travel to these destinations, but that a travel agent can provide the resources to make decisions they feel most comfortable with.

Here are a few resources you can use to ensure that the destination you're booking is as LGBTQAI+ friendly as your client wants it to be.

  1. IGLA (International Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Trans & Intersex) 2020 map of sexual orientation laws illustrates sexual orientation laws by country (some countries criminalize homosexuality).
  2. IGLA also has a 2020 "Trans Legal Mapping Report" that directly addresses concerns specific to trans or gender-diverse concerns.
  3. IGLTA has also added fabulous travel guides to their site that will help hone your LGBTQAI+ travel expertise in no time flat. Seriously, it almost feels like cheating . . . but it's not. It's just resourceful. 😉 Why are these guides so great? It gives you a rundown of each destination's cultural attitudes toward the LGBTQAI+ population. But not only that, but it also offers links to LGBTQAI+ friendly suppliers. (It basically does your homework for you).

Not all LGBTQAI+ travelers will prioritize destinations according to law and/or cultural attitude, but these resources will ensure they're making decisions they feel confident about. If you post links to WHO and/or CDC in your disclaimer, you might even consider linking updated IGLA's map of sexual orientation laws there too.


In Conclusion . . .

If you’ve made it this far, then you must be invested in extending your travel services to the LGBTQ community! I have sincere gratitude for your interest in support! You deserve a little dance party 🎉

Did I forget something? Probably. If you have questions, comments, or additional resources please comment below!


A Miniature Glossary of LGBTQ+ Terms

Below we have a (brief) glossary of LGBTQ+ terms. This list is far from all-encompassing but offers a good primer to ensure you're communicating to your clients in respectful ways.

Aspects of sexual orientation and gender orientation both fall under the LGBTQ+ umbrella, but aren't necessarily related. For example, someone can identify as genderqueer and be heterosexual, or someone can identify as gay and identify as cisgender.

Ally: Someone who does not identify as LGBTQ+ but is supportive of the LGBTQ+ community (for example, actively supporting equality).

AFAB: "Assigned Female At Birth."

AMAB: "Assigned Male At Birth."

Androgynous: A term that references gender for someone whose identification or presentation is neither explicitly (or exclusively) masculine or feminine.

Bisexual (bi): Someone attracted to people of their own gender and another gender.

Cisgender (Cis): Cisgender is a term that describes gender expressions that align with a male/female gender binary. Using the term "cisgender" or "cis" is a way to express solidarity

Gay: Someone who is attracted to the same sex.

Homophobia: An expressed or internalized fear, hatred of/directed toward individuals who are gay or lesbian. Other terms that encompass fear of LGBTQ+ community members include biphobia or transphobia.

LGBTQ+: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer. The "+" indicates additional terms such as asexual, intersex, pansexual, and more. LGBTQ+ may be written as "LGBTQAI+"

Lesbian: A woman primarily attracted to women.

Non-Binary: Refers to gender expressions and/or pronouns that exist outside a male/female binary. Other words similar to non-binary are genderqueer and gender fluid.

Non-Binary Pronouns: They/Them/Theirs is the most common non-binary pronoun. Other non-binary pronouns include zim, ze, xe, and xey.

Individuals may use gender non-binary pronouns when they don't use she/her or he/him. Here's an example: "They boarded the plane and listened to their customary travel playlist on their headphones" (as opposed to "S/he boarded the plane and listened to her/his customary travel playlist on her/his phone).

While everyone will make mistakes (this is sometimes called "misgendering") and use an incorrect pronoun from time to time, it's extremely disrespectful and hurtful to address someone or talk about them using pronouns you know they don't use for themselves. If you're unsure what pronouns someone uses, it's best to ask, "What pronouns do you use?"

Queer: An umbrella term that refers to LGBT+ folks regarding gender and/or sexuality. This term is commonly used within the LGBTQ community and may be considered offensive/derogatory when used outside that context.

Transgender (trans): An umbrella term for someone who does not identify with the gender/sex they were assigned at birth.

Editor's Note: This post was originally published in July 2017, and is annually updated with the most recent data, trends, and resource on publish date listed



Footnotes

  1. Source: 2019 CMI Survey
  2. Source: CMI
About the Author
Mary Stein - Host Agency Reviews

Mary Stein

Mary Stein has been working as a writer and editor for Host Agency Reviews since 2016. She loves supporting travel advisors on their entrepreneurial journey and is inspired by their passion, tenacity, and creativity. Mary is also a mom, dog lover, fiction writer, hiker, and a Great British Bake Off superfan.