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Huge potential for the travel industry: 2nd UNWTO LGBT Report examines outlook for gay and lesbian travel

UNWTO - Second Global Report on LGBT Tourism

In conjunction with the leading International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association (IGLTA) and following its first report in 2012, the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) has published a second report on the role of the increasingly important LGBT travel market. As the World’s Largest Travel Trade Fair and as part of its strategy to promote social responsibility, ITB Berlin is committed to firmly establishing the LGBT segment while also dispelling preconceptions. According to the report, in recent years the LGBT travel market has experienced a general upturn. Nevertheless, in some 70 countries around the world the legal situation of gays and lesbians remains very precarious, and a lot still needs to be done in terms of education.

As well as ITB Berlin, which demonstrates its support through seminars, a dedicated show segment and a consistently clear message to the travel industry, the report lists numerous other positive examples of companies who are actively showing their support. According to the tour operator Virgin Holidays, around two-thirds of the LGBT community are worried about their safety and discrimination when travelling. That is why the company urges its business partners to adopt an open-minded and egalitarian approach in dealing with LGBT travellers. The UNWTO Report also stresses the important role played by the UN, which under the leadership of its former general secretary Ban Ki-moon remains strongly committed to tolerance and diversity. Not only has the United Nations made practical progress itself, it also actively supports other countries in their bid to create a more open society. In the report’s introduction, the current UNWTO general secretary Taleb Rifai takes a clear stand, urging an open-minded travel industry.

Marketing should focus on LGBT travel

Why is authentic support for LGBT travellers so important in order to successfully market tourism in this segment? LGBT travellers want to receive a genuine welcome like any other guests. They want to make sure they are accepted, can be themselves and feel secure during their precious time on holiday. The report says that regardless of sexual orientation many travellers pay a lot of attention to the sustainability efforts of companies, towns and regions when choosing their holidays. According to a Deloitte survey of around 8,000 millennials in 29 countries, around 87 per cent of those polled valued companies with a socially responsible attitude. The report underlines the importance of social media, which is heavily subscribed to by LGBT travellers and is a quick means of communicating any discriminatory behaviour in regions and cities. Conversely, positive news can also be rapidly disseminated and remains in the collective memory.

According to the report, those companies which have already embraced diversity, but also operate in countries where the rights of minorities are not adequate yet, now face a challenge. This concerns large hotel chains, for instance. Those companies must stand up for their principles on the home market while also providing staff with corresponding training in other countries. Companies including IBM, MasterCard and Google have joined an initiative called Open for Business in order to provide regions and countries with concrete advice on how to open up and in the medium term create a more tolerant society.

Concrete challenges in the LGBT market

As regards the travel market, whereas a few years ago places such as Mykonos and San Francisco were the destinations of choice for gays and lesbians, nowadays it is no longer easy to define LGBT travel preferences. What is more, the market is quite diverse: young homosexuals are increasingly discarding the “gay“ label and no longer identify closely with it. In terms of their travel demands, bisexual travellers are practically the same as heterosexuals and barely register as a separate category, making it difficult to target the LGBT market as a whole.

Apps have also had a significant impact on the community. They enable travellers to network in areas where there are few LGBT members. Apps and websites make it possible to make contact before travelling. Here again, the market is diverse: gays are more inclined to use apps than lesbians or heterosexual travellers, for example.

Not all LGBT travellers are automatically wealthy DINKS

The image of the LGBT community as being saturated in money is somewhat out of date. On the one hand, new adoption laws in many countries mean that not all couples can be  automatically classed as DINKS. On the other, the same economic rules apply to gays and lesbians as to anyone else.

The report views the growing trend towards legalising same-sex marriages as positive. It offers good prospects for the wedding and honeymoon market, e.g. for hotels hosting wedding celebrations. Here again, staff require proper training to ensure that LGBT customers feel taken care of on the best day of their lives.

PC travel – an issue within the LGBT community

Within the LGBT community there is debate over the destinations one should travel to. Some make a conscious decision to only support countries with LGBT rights, while others are open to visiting those where rights have not yet been established.

Emerging source markets such as India, Indonesia and China feature prominently in the report. These are countries where there are potentially huge numbers of LGBT travellers. In particular young people and city-dwellers represent an interesting prospect for the industry. It is also much easier for LGBT members to be accepted among their peers than older people. As another example in the report, gays and lesbians in China do not wish to travel any differently to heterosexuals, and compared to travellers from Europe and North America they are very selective in their choice of destination. Nonetheless, the high potential of this market is often dampened by low travel budgets and in certain places the difficulties encountered in obtaining visas.

An appeal to countries and regions, including those with established rights

In concluding the report the authors appeal directly to destinations. They advise established LGBT destinations to keep targeting specific audiences and also appeal to as yet hesitant destinations to open their doors, not just because of the lure of high profits. Worldwide, acceptance of LGBT rights is still fragile, and there is a constant battle to uphold them. The report also quotes positive examples of how countries and regions have very successfully exploited this niche market for tourism, including New York City, Barcelona, Vienna and Argentina.

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