5 Tips to Make Your Travel Agency LGBTQ+ Friendly (or Friendlier)
Even though PRIDE month is only celebrated once a year, the LGBTQ+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer) community is gay all year long—probably even lifelong.
As a gay/queer woman and traveler, I was surprised to see in our most recent Travel Agent Income Survey results that fewer than 1% of travel agents reported that LGBTQ+ travel was a part of their niche in 2019.1 This seems like a lost opportunity for the LGBTQ+ traveling community to benefit from travel agents that are attuned to some of the particular challenges and travel needs among LGBTQ+ travelers.
Goods news. We have a few solutions for you. So even if your agency doesn't technically focus on LGBTQ+ travel, you can take a few quick steps to ensure your business is inclusive to LGBTQ+ travelers.
Why is it important to position yourself as an ally (beyond being courteous and providing the best service for your clients)? Let me start with a brief history lesson: In 1969, the Stonewall riots opened doors to greater rights and protections for the LGBTQ+ community. It's critical to acknowledge that black transwomen were at the frontlines (literally) fighting for rights and protections that offered the most benefit and access to their white/ cisgendered LGBTQ+ peers for generations to come.
I don't want their work to extinguish, and expressing your solidarity in a public way is one small step toward embracing your LGBTQ+ clients and make sure your booking and planning truly reflects their unique safety and travel needs.
So if you have a few spare moments—*cough, cough* quality quaran-time—you can get your learn on quickly to work toward supporting your LGBTQ+ travelers.
We interviewed John Tanzella, President of the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association (IGLTA) to pick his brain for LGBTQ+ resources. We'll walk you through how to make your agency LGBTQ+ friendly in 5 steps.
⭐️5 Steps to make your agency LGBTQ+ Friendly (The crib notes)⭐️
- Understand the LGBTQ+ Travel Community: The latest LGBTQ+ travel trends may not be what you expect. Learn a little bit about the LGBTQ+ community, and Check out IGLTA research to see if your agency aligns with the latest LGBTQ+ travel types and destinations.
- Step up Your Travel LGBTQ+ Travel Education:There's no LGBTQ+ certification course to take or stamp to receive. But we have a few travel-specific LGBTQ+ education resources (many free) that would make your agency worth of one!
- Express Solidarity with the LGBTQ+ Travel Community:Don't forget your LGBTQ+ travelers when you create your marketing materials, social media collateral, and public presence.
- Qualify Your LGBTQ+ Travelers: Even if your niche isn't LGBTQ+ travelers, you're selling to that demographic. On your traveler interest survey, include a few additional question to ask if there will be any LGBTQ+ travelers on the trip.
- 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 LGBTQ+ inclusivity aligns with the needs of your client. You can ask suppliers about their policies, staff training, and how their activities and event accommodate LGBTQ+ travelers.
- Go the Extra Mile!: We are giddy to announce that we're partner with IGLTA to offer HAR readers a 50% membership through June! Go this link and use the code: TRAVAD50 at this link.
- A Miniature Glossary of LGBTQ+ Terms: A basic knowledge of LGBTQ+ terms will help you have a better understanding of your LGBTQ+ client base. In the article, we will provide a link to our glossary when we use specific terms.
1. Understand the LGBTQ+ Travel Community
Maybe you're nervous to cater to the LGBTQ+ 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 LGBTQ+ community (check out our brief glossary of terms here) 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, business travel and every other reason under the sun!
Making your agency inclusive to the LGBTQ+ community is not a 180º shift in your speciality. It's a matter of adapting your marketing efforts, and developing a greater expertise of products and destinations that you already sell.
Yes. Out there somewhere, there's probably a gay version of you (unless, like me, you're the gay version of yourself). The LGBTQ+ community’s travel needs and desires are not uniform, in fact they fall across the spectrum of travel niches.
What does this mean? This means that you're likely already selling types of travel that certain segments of the LGBTQ+ community are seeking out. Making your agency inclusive to the LGBTQ+ community is not 180º shift in your speciality. It's a matter of adapting your marketing efforts, and developing a greater expertise of products and destinations that you already sell.
So you may be asking, what makes LGBTQ+ travelers different than their mainstream peers?
What is LGBTQ+ Travel?
While LGBTQ+ includes destinations, events, and activities are specific to the LGBTQ+ 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? only 37% chose "LGBTQ Traveler" among their selections.
LGBTQ+ travelers identified as relaxation travel (54%), local cuisine (49%), travel like a local (49%), nature traveler (42%), sightseer (41%), and museum enthusiast (41%)above identifying their travel as LGBTQ traveler.2
"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."
This indicates that LGBTQ+ travel is all travel. IGLTA President, John Tanzella defines LGBTQ+ travel broadly, "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."
In regard to current LGBTQ+ travel trends for 2020, Tanzella mentioned, "We’re hearing increasing conversations about LGBTQ+ family travel—from the perspective of LGBTQ+ parents traveling with their children, but also in terms of multi-generational travel, with family members of all ages traveling together, so the person who is LGBTQ+ might be parent, child or grandparent."
What differentiates LGBTQ+ Travelers from mainstream travelers?
Just because LGBTQ+ travelers are interested in mainstream travel does not mean they do not have specific needs and travel concerns.
While the minority from this segment prioritizes LGBTQ+ specific travel, the overwhelming majority—80%—reported they would "not travel to a destination that treats their local LGBTQ community poorly."
While the minority from this segment prioritizes LGBTQ+ specific travel (destinations/events/suppliers), the overwhelming majority—80%—reported they would "not travel to a destination that treats their local LGBTQ community poorly."
When it comes to specific suppliers, LGBTQ+ travelers indicated overwhelming preference to hotels that are active allies to the LGBTQ+ 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 also indicated they prioritized hotels and brands that provided LGBTQ+ diversity training to their staff, has gender non-discrimination policies, advertises in LGBTQ+ media, and includes LGBTQ+ imagery on their website.
The takeaway? The mainstream travel tastes of LGBTQ+ travelers is not at the expense of that segment's preference for destinations and suppliers that are active allies to the LGBTQ+ community. This includes you!
What does it mean to be LGBTQ+ 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 LGBTQ+ friendly.
Here's a few ways you professionally serve LGBTQ+ clients (and let's face it, all your clients):
- A commitment to not making assumptions about one’s gender, sexual identity, or marital status.
- 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 faces while traveling. When risks are present, they can range between an unwelcoming environment to more extreme risks of hostile cultural or political policies against same-sex couples or individuals who are transgender. This article by Dopes on the Road (travel bloggers) offers suggestions how LGBTQ+ travelers can stay safe while hitting the road (and quite 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.
How do you go about doing this in a meaningful way? Read on.
2. Step Up Your LGBTQ+ Travel Travel Education
We offer a score of travel agent education resources on the site. But, beyond supplier trainings and special topics at conferences, there are not any programs or certifications (that we're aware of) that specifically target selling travel to the LGBTQ+ market.
When it comes to piecing together LGBTQ+ education, it's a bit on the DIY side. So how would you go about building your LGBTQ+ travel savvy? We have a few ideas on that.
1. Conference Education
The IGLTA hosts an annual travel conference dedicated to matters to LGBTQ+ travel (which was postponed in 2020). This is the only conference centralized around this travel segment. But there are other travel conferences that provide substantial LGBTQ+ 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 a number of IGLTA members that offer custom training products.
2. LGBTQ+ Research for Travel Agents
Taking time to look at the latest LGBTQ+ travel research goes a long way in helping travel agents understand the latest travel trends among that demographic. In the matter of twenty minutes, you can gain an understanding of the LGBTQ+ travel demographic. This will help you glean marketing ideas and gain insights how to better qualify clients and suppliers.
In the matter of twenty minutes, you can gain an understanding of the LGBTQ+ travel demographic.
Here's are two primary resources for LGBTQ+ travel demographic:
- CMI (Community Marketing and Insights) conducts an annual survey of LGBTQ+ travelers that offer invaluable insights on what this demographic prioritizes when they make travel choices. While this article has summarized some its insights, you can find the full report here in order to take the pulse of the latest LGBTQ+ travel trends and what marketing efforts are most effective in reaching this segment.
- IGLTA has an entire portion of their site dedicated to the latest LGBTQ+ travel research, and it's available for free.
- Tanzella also encourages agents to connect "in person" with IGLTA, "Right now we’re hosting IGLTA Members Connect sessions online each Thursday and we have one that’s dedicated to travel advisors and tour operators. All are welcome to join, learn and share best practices with our community. We also post recordings of the sessions that have guest speakers. Full details are here"
Not bad for DIY! If you went through all these materials, and took the steps outlined in this article, I'd give you a fun badge if I had the power to do so :).
more LGBTQ+ travel education resources because you're all about extra credit
What?! You're insatiable appetite for knowledge is not quenched? Here's more:
- A list of more LGBTQ Terminology
- An NYT article on planning a safe trip for LGBTQ travelers
- 40 Safety Tips for LGBT Travelers by Dopes on the Road
- Travel and Leisure’s Tips for Transgender Travelers
- A Super Awesome Power Point Presentation by CMI on, “How to Connect with LGBT Travelers”
3. Express Solidarity with the LGBTQ+ Travel Community
Fabo! Now you have a pulse on the LGBTQ+ 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's a few ways you can position your travel agency as an LGBTQ+ ally.
1. Express Solidarity on Your Website
You can express solidarity on your website with an explicitly inclusive mission, 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:
- We support the LGBTQ community
- 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 LGBTQ+ travel and have booked dedicated LGBTQ+ 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 LGBTQ+ travelers, you might also include a tab on your website that goes to LGBTQ+ inclusive destinations, itineraries, or products.
2. LGBTQ+ 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 LGBTQ+ community members. This might include showing same-sex couples, images of genderqueer or gender-fluid people/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 a same-sex couples. (Seriously. Try me.)
If you're looking for a little visual inspiration, start with our top LGBTQ+ travel blogs that every travel agent should follow!
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 you 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.).
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. Why? For those who don't use more common pronouns, it's exhausting to always correct people to address them by the correct pronoun. If you ask up front, you'll save your client the trouble of needing to educate or correct you (and you save yourself some embarrassment from using the wrong pronouns).
2. Qualifying Your LGBTQ+ Travelers
When qualifying LGBTQ+ travelers, the first step is not to make assumptions. Booking a destination wedding for a bride and groom? There's good chance they'll have LGBTQ+ 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.
How do you find out? All you have to do is ask. We have an extensive resource on qualifying your travel clients that includes a handy travel interest survey you can steal and brand to your agency in order to help you automate the process. If a client indicates there will be LGBTQ+ 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 for discriminatory laws around the world that could impact their clients’ destination choices. Working with inbound tour operators who understand the needs of LGBTQ+ travelers is also an excellent way to ensure their clients have a safe, welcoming experience."
Every LGBTQ+ traveler will have different comfort levels when it comes to how friendly a destination or supplier is to LGBTQ+ 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.
- Are you looking for a LGBTQ+ hotspot? This would mean a destination or supplier that is known for focusing on LGBTQ+ specific spaces and events)
- How important is it to you that the destination is LGBTQ+ friendly? Ideally, every destination would be LGBTQ+ friendly, but if a client/pied piper wants to go somewhere that's more hostile to LGBTQ+ 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).
- How important is it to you that the supplier (hotel/resort) is LGBTQ+ friendly? A country with unfavorable anti-discrimination laws doesn't necessarily mean there aren't LGBTQ+ 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.
3. Qualify Your Destinations and Suppliers
You're wiser in the ways of the LGBTQ+ 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 a taking a few moments take a few extra steps to qualify your destinations and suppliers as well.
1. Qualify LGBTQ+ 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 LGBTQ+ 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 LGBTQ+ 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.
- Have they hosted many LGBTQ+ guests and what can they share about those experiences?
- Were they singles, couples, families?
- Have they had LGBTQ+ groups stay?
- Has their staff had any diversity training?
- What kinds of offerings are available in their area for LGBTQ+ guests?
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 LGBTQ+ 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.3
LGBTQ+ travelers overwhelmingly prioritize travel to LGBTQ+ friendly destinations as opposed to LGBTQ+ hotspots
The LGBTQ+ travel community has different safety concerns in addition to those that mainstream travelers experiences. Some "hot spot" travel destinations may even have unfavorable or even hostile laws and/or social attitudes toward the LGBTQ+ community.
This doesn't mean that LGBTQ+ travelers won't want to travel to these destinations, but that travel agents can provide them resources to make decisions they feel most comfortable with.
Here's a few resources you can use to ensure that the destination you're booking is as LGBTQ+ friendly as your client wants it to be.
- IGLA (International Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Trans & Intersex) 2017 map of sexual orientation laws, which illustrates sexual orientation laws by country (some countries criminalize homosexuality).
- IGLA also offers a trans mapping report that directly addresses concerns specific to those who are trans or gender-diverse/genderqueer.
- IGLTA has also added fabulous travel guides to their site that will help hone your LGBTQ+ 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 LGBTQ+ population. But not only that, it also offer links to LGBTQ+ friendly suppliers. (It basically does your homework for you).
Not all LGBTQ+ 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.
6. Go The Extra Mile: Become a IGLTA Member
If you want your travel agency listed on IGLTA's site so LGBTQ+ travelers can find you, boy do we have a surprise for you! For PRIDE the IGLTA is offering 50% off for new memberships. The discount applies to all membership levels.
A membership will allow you to use IGLTA's logo, get listed on their site so LGBTQ+ travelers can find you and more! You don't have to be LGBTQ+ to become a member! All you need is a commitment and desire to serve your LGBTQ+ clientele. Here's how you do it:
Here's how to register and become a member
- Go to IGLTA's Registration page
- Enter your email address.
- If you don't already have an account, it'll prompt you to create an account and enter your user details.
- If you already have an account, it'll prompt you to enter you log in details. Note: you can only add a IGLTA membership to your account if you are the company admin.
- Click "Create/Affiliate with Company" on the right hand side bar of your dashboard. If you already had your company connected, jump to step 6.
- Search for your company name and create a company (if your company is not already listed, you'll have the option to create one). Note: Be sure whoever creates the company is who you want to be the admin. Otherwise you have to contact IGLTA to change admins.
- Create your company's IGLTA profile.
- Return to User Dashboard and select "Membership: Join"
- Choose your membership level and enter TRAVAD50 to receive 50% off whatever membership level you chose!
- Enter your payment details and congrats! You're officially a member of IGLTA!
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 communication to your clients in ways that are respectful.
Aspects of sexual orientation and gender orientation both fall under LGBTQ+ umbrella, but aren't necessarily related. For example, someone can identify as genderqueer and also be heterosexual, or someone can identify as gay and also 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 who 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 term that describes gender expressions which 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 "mis-gendering") and use the incorrect pronouns 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 in regard to 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, but has been revamped and updated to reflect current data.