The gay and lesbian tourism market

In this down market the gay and lesbian travel market has been one area of growth in the tourism and travel industry. Mexico City’s recent decision to become a center for gay marriages exemplifies this trend. Often called by the letters GLBT, meaning people who are gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and/or transgender, some parts of the industry consider this market to be controversial, some in the travel and tourism industry do not seek this market and others see it as a major source of growth and revenue.

For those in the travel and tourism industry who see the GLBT market as a major growth industry there are many opportunities. These people argue that one’s sexual orientation is not an issue for public discussion and that business is business. No matter what position one may have on GLBT travel, the simple fact is that this niche market has become a major growth segment of the travel industry and one that is hard to ignore.

For example, research in the USA demonstrates that the GLBT traveler spends about one thousand US dollars more on travel vacations than does his/her heterosexual counterpart and that GLBT people tend to take more vacations more often than their heterosexual counterparts. GLBT tourism, it is a reality and as such deserves the attention of all tourism and travel professionals.

Recent surveys bear out the importance of the GLBT market especially during economically challenging times. For example, recent research notes that while 61 percent of heterosexuals will seek less expensive activities due to the economy’s downturns, only 51 percent of GLBT intend to do so. In a like manner some 32 percent of heterosexuals state that in a down economy they will take a “staycation” (vacation at home) only 18 percent of GLBT would substitute a vacation for a staycation. The following facts show just how important the GLBT community is to tourism and travel:
97 percent of the members of the GLBT community took a vacation last year
57 percent of GLBT note that they prefer to buy top-of-the line products and services
37 percent of GLBT families took at least one long holiday abroad
53 percent of GLBT families spent over US$5,000 per person on a holiday

It is important to note that not every community is ready or seeks GLBT tourism, or has the facilities to attract this form of tourism. For example, communities without at least middle range hotels may not have the correct infrastructure. Some communities may choose to not seek this form of tourism for other reasons for example for religious or cultural reasons.

For those communities that do seek GLBT tourism, have the correct infrastructure, and desire to enter or increase their market share of this important travel community, Tourism & More offers the following suggestions:
Before entering into a marketing campaign to attract GLBT tourists, know your community and its tolerance level to diversity. Often tourism professionals do not know their own community and assume that it is more or less tolerant than it really is or less. Do not project your own feelings and biases onto the community.

Know who your competition is and what the competition offers that is special. Simply declaring oneself gay-ready may lead to failure. Who is your competition? What do your competitors offer and what can you offer that your competitors do not offer? Often our strongest assets may be tourism products that we tend to overlook. This basic principle is especially true when it comes to small town or countryside tourism.

Think about the consequences if others see your community as gay-phobic. While no one has the right to tell a business or community which niche markets to see, in a world and industry that promote tolerance, consider the consequences if you are seen as not indifferent but hostile to any group of people. How will such an image impact others who may wish to visit your community, live in it or bring a new business to it?

If deciding to seek GLBT tourism, consider that the three most important things that help to make a gay friendly tourism community are: (1) security. GLBT tourists want to know whether a place is safe and free from intimidation and threats; (2) cultural sensitivity. GLBT people want to know whether the locale is culturally welcoming and known to support diversity and GLBT civil rights, and (3) word of mouth, what GLBT have heard from others who have come to that locale.

Convince (or if needed, pressure) your community’s government to include sexual orientation within its list of hate crimes. No matter how caring and open your community may be there are always intolerant people and some of these people may act on their prejudices. Remember that one of the key factors in GLBT tourism is the issue of safety and security. How well are your police trained in this area? How sensitive are your police, judges etc to GLBT security? If you decide to seek the GLBT market then it is helpful to add sexual orientation crimes to the hate crimes list.

Provide excellent service in a non-hostile environment. Perhaps more than any other group, GLBT visitors suffer from both overt and covert discrimination. Good customer service demands that we treat all people equally and with dignity and respect. The worst thing that can happen is to market your community as open and tolerant and then have a GLBT tourist be treated in a rude or prejudiced manner.

Provide accurate information on gay-friendly hotels and nightlife and attractions. For example the Philadelphia tourism website provides a lost of gay friendly hotels, restaurants, bars, museums, shops, sports and outdoor activities. If considering developing a GLBT marketing campaign either as an attraction, travel provider or community, then take the time to see what others have done and build on their successes and learn from their mistakes.

In the end, do not forget that GLBT tourism is first and foremost tourism. That means that while this is a niche market, it still operates under the rules of tourism. To attract people you need excellent service, a safe environment, good attractions, good restaurants and hotels, and friendly and hospitable service. These are the building blocks of all tourism, no matter what the person’s race, color, nationality and sexual orientation may be.

Dr. Peter E. Tarlow is president of Tourism & More Inc, College Station Texas. Tourism & More specializes in all aspects of security and marketing for the tourism and hospitality industries. You can reach Peter Tarlow via email at or at telephone +1-979-764-8402.