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How to adapt your tourism offer to the LGBTQI+ community?

Considered until recently as a niche tourism, LGBTQI+ tourism has become more normalized and amplified over the years. This progress is due to the associations and individuals who mobilise daily to make the voices of their community heard. Society must now be inclusive and open-minded, as must the tourism sector and its many actors. While some companies take advantage of Pride Month in June to show their support for the community, others mobilise 365 days a year. Here is an overview of LGBTQI+ - friendly tourist destinations and actors.

A fast-growing market

Times are changing and attitudes are evolving, if many tourists from the community used to hide their identities during their stays, this is now (almost) no longer the case. LGBTQI+ tourism is now a significant part of the tourism industry, as figures published by The International Gay and Lesbian Association (IGLA) reveal. Before the health crisis, the market was worth over $218 billion a year worldwide. In Europe, LGBTQI+ tourism is estimated to account for around 8% of the total turnover, or $65 billion according to the Gay European Tourism Association (GETA). 

LGBT tourism has been growing steadily in recent years. It is now widely recognised as an important and promising tourism segment worldwide and can become a powerful driver of economic development, social inclusion and competitiveness of tourism destinations. 

Taleb Rifai, UNWTO Secretary-General

Tourism is first and foremost about getting to know each other. Discovery, sharing and inclusion are deeply embedded in its DNA. It therefore seems logical to take even more into consideration the needs and expectations of the LGBTQI+ community. All the more so as this community is expected to number 180 million travellers by 2030 according to the UNWTO's Global LGBTQI+ Tourism Report. LGBTQI+ tourists travel more frequently than non-LGBTQI+ tourists and have higher than average incomes. This may be due to the fact that many LGBTQI+ people are in dual-income, childless couples, known in finance as DINK (Dual incomes, no kids).

However, the LGBTQI+ segment cannot be treated as a homogeneous group, as sexuality is only one part of people's lives and is often not a reason for travel. Many other criteria need to be taken into account such as age, origin, marital status, presence or absence of children, socio-professional category and many others. There are also clear generational differences, with baby boomers and millenials having very different travel expectations. While millennials may not need anything specific, baby boomers, who may have experienced more discrimination in the past, may want specific products and services and to be recognised as LGBTQI+ travellers.

Better understand the needs of this community

In order to properly address a given type of customer, it is necessary to be familiar with their expectations. Several studies have looked at the feelings and needs of LGBTQI+ travellers when they travel. The figures show, among other things, the anxiety and feelings of rejection that these people can experience when travelling.

According to Booking.com's 2022 study, 82% of travellers from the community say they have had unwelcoming or uncomfortable experiences during a trip. Of these, 55% of travellers say they have experienced discrimination. This is an appalling figure that highlights the scale of the challenge faced by these tourists when travelling.

In addition, 49% said that being LGBTQI+ affected their decisions when planning a trip, particularly in terms of safety. Despite these various obstacles, 85% of LGBTQI+ travellers say that the majority of their travel experiences have been welcoming and are therefore satisfied overall. This is a hopeful figure that demonstrates the changing attitudes around the world and the greater openness shown by many, particularly within the tourism industry.

According to the same study, 60% are more likely to travel to a destination that celebrates their community and local LGBTQI+ history. More community-supportive and community-recognising tourism offerings are therefore important, with 55% saying they are more likely to look for community-friendly attractions or activities. When it comes to booking on the Booking site, 30% of travellers also want to see filters to identify properties that offer positive reviews to LGBTQI+ travellers.

As a result, the LGBTQI+ community is increasingly looking to travel with brands that clearly communicate where travel is inclusive and that are responsive to the needs of the community. For example by indicating when businesses are LGBTQI+ owned. Personalisation is also a way for the sector to better meet the needs of these travellers. For example, 36% would like additional information about the LGBTQI+ status of the place they are travelling to, including local laws, religious sensitivities, dress requirements and statistics on LGBTQI+ hate crimes.

The hospitality sector aims to be inclusive

Accommodation is a key element of the overall travel experience. According to the Booking.com study, 52% of respondents did not feel welcome or had unpleasant experiences at a property they were staying at. While 14% have been in contact with professionals who did not understand the nature of their relationship with their travel companions at check-in, 12% have been confronted with professionals who used the wrong pronouns or assigned them a gender that was not their own. Many setbacks that tarnish the reputation of these properties. Hotels that risk losing this customer segment forever due to lack of training.

It is now essential that the hospitality industry gets up to speed and provides a healthy and inclusive environment for both its customers and LGBTQI+ employees. As a result, IHG scored 100% in the Human Rights Campaign Foundation's Corporate Equality Index (CEI) and was recognised as the best place to work for LGBTQI+ equality for the sixth consecutive year. The group also decided this year to sponsor Black UK Pride, becoming the first actor in the hospitality sector to sponsor the event.

Hyatt has also recently appointed Tyronne Stoudemire as Senior Vice President of Global Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. This is an increasingly common role for large companies demonstrating their commitment to the community. Accor is not to be outdone, in fact, the group has made LGBTQI+ inclusion a new pillar of its Diversity & Inclusion strategy and is thus formalising a new international collaboration as a Platinum partner of IGLTA, the international LGBTQI+ tourism association. In addition, it has been supporting the United Nations' "Global LGBTI Standards of Conduct for Business" since 2018.

Other major hotel operators are also joining the LGBTQI+ cause, such as Marriott, which has put in place numerous measures to demonstrate its commitment. It is even cited as a pioneer in the sector. In the late 1990s, Marriott began offering partner benefits to its US LGBTQI+ employees. Marriott also partners with a number of organisations such as the Human Rights Campaign, IGLTA, PFLAG, the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC) and the National Center for Lesbian Rights. In addition, it has launched numerous campaigns promoting inclusion such as "Be You, With Us" and the "#LoveTravels campaign".

Certifications are a good way to demonstrate commitment to the LGBTQI+ community as demonstrated by Meliá Hotels International's partnership with Queer Destinations, a company specialising in LGBTQI+ travel consultancy and training. The partnership has enabled a selection of its ME by Meliá luxury hotels, including the ME Madrid and ME Cabo, to achieve Queer Destinations Committed certification. The company also aims to certify its Paradisus by Meliá hotels in Mexico this year as well as the INNSiDE New York Nomad Hotel. As part of the certification process, more than 3,000 Meliá employees will receive the Hospitality Meets Diversity training course hosted by Queer Destinations this year. 

This agreement underscores our commitment to continue to develop our teams and design innovative and responsible strategies to provide the best possible experiences for LGBTQ+ travellers and exceed their expectations. 

Manuel Riego, Vice President of Marketing, Meliá Hotels International

In addition, there are certain times of the year that increase travel among the LGBTQI+ community, such as the beginning of the summer season when gay pride marches take place around the world. While the health crisis had at times prevented them from taking place, it would appear that 2022 will return to 2019 levels according to Airbnb. The pride marches are also one of the most popular weekends on the platform, generating almost 10,000 overnight stays. Paris is one of the most popular destinations worldwide on Airbnb for celebrating Pride Month in 2022, alongside London and Rome.

Destinations open to everyone

At least 72 countries continue to imprison and prosecute LGBTQI+ people, and in 12 countries they face even more severe penalties. For example, Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco are ranked among the most community-hostile tourist destinations in the 2022 edition of the LGBTQ+ Travel Safety Index. In Qatar, LGBTQ+ people are expected to keep a low profile during the World Cup. Not surprisingly, LGBTQI+ tourists are mainly travelling to places where it is safe to do so, favouring destinations that are perceived as friendly and accepting.

All of these factors influence where they plan their trips. According to the Booking.com survey, 60% of people say that being part of the community has an impact on their planning decisions. While safety is one of the main factors in choosing a destination, it is also necessary for the destination to provide promotional efforts for the LGBTQI+ community. Highlighting gay-friendly addresses or launching communication campaigns featuring people from the community are all ways of standing out and winning the sympathy of these travellers.

France, like many Western countries, is a relatively safe destination for the LGBTQI+ community, as evidenced by the distinction received by Paris. The capital has indeed received a prestigious award in 2019, that of the first "Gay Travel Approved City" in Europe awarded by a jury composed of all kinds of experts and influencers. However, it is the city of Nice that is winning over the community with the launch of a 100% LGBTQI+ carnival alongside the traditional carnival. In 2015, 2016 and 2017 it hosted the largest LGBTQI+ carnival in France, Lou Queernival. In addition, the city has distinguished itself with the label "Nice, naturally iridescent" created in 2011 and which highlights the multicoloured flag, symbol of the community. A scheme dedicated to tourism businesses whose staff have been trained to provide an optimal and reassuring welcome to each of their customers. More than a hundred structures are already partners.

Other international destinations are just as well known within the community, such as Spain, which has a very inclusive legal framework and which, in particular, authorised marriage for all in 2005, i.e. 8 years before France. Turespaña, the country's tourism body, had also created a promotional campaign aimed at the LGBTQI+ community with the slogan "Here prejudice stays in the closet". Thailand also launched a similar campaign under the banner "Go Thai. Be free" which provided a comprehensive list of experiences, hotels and destination guides for LGBTQI+ travellers, featuring people of all colours and orientations. Few tourist destinations are so clearly supportive of the community, but this phenomenon is expected to grow in the coming years in light of current societal advances.

Among the list of top destinations for LGBTQI+ travellers, we also find Canada, which like Spain has allowed marriage for all since 2005. This makes Canada one of the most tolerant countries in the world towards the community. Tolerance in Canada is not only in the legislation, but also in the attitude, especially in the big cities where many properties and places are LGBTQI+ - friendly. Scandinavian countries are equally welcoming, including Denmark, which is one of the few countries that have passed laws to protect LGBTQI+ people. Last but not least, Costa Rica was voted by the newspaper El Pais as one of the trendiest LGBTQI+ - friendly travel destinations. More than 180 businesses are certified LGBTQI+ - friendly by the LBGT Chamber of Commerce of Costa Rica.

 

The societal advances of recent years have allowed the LGBTQI+ community to travel with greater peace of mind. This has been made possible thanks to associations but also thanks to professionals in the sector who are committed to a more caring and inclusive industry. However, one should not claim to be LGBTQI+ - friendly only for financial reasons, there is a real commitment behind this name that companies must respect and cultivate. Empty promises would create the same problem as green-washing.

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