How Travel Agents Can Target LGBT Travelers

How Travel Agents Can Target LGBT Travelers

10 tips for travel agencies looking to expand their LGBT business By: Mark Chesnut
Travel agents looking to appeal to LGBT travelers should include LGBT imagery in marketing campaigns. // © 2015 Thinkstock
Travel agents looking to appeal to LGBT travelers should include LGBT imagery in marketing campaigns. // © 2015 Thinkstock

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The Details

Conference on LGBT Tourism & Hospitality

It’s no secret that the LGBT market can mean big money for many travel businesses.

The latest trends in this growing and varied niche were in focus at the 15th Conference on LGBT Tourism & Hospitality, which took place in December at the Bellagio Las Vegas. During and after the conference, several of the participating individuals and organizations shared their top tips for marketing to this niche — and many of these recommendations can work especially well for travel agencies looking to expand their presence. 

Be inclusive in your presentation.
“When it comes to targeting the community, the biggest trend in the LGBT market is the importance of inclusion — both in marketing and delivery of the experience,” said Todd Tomlin, manager of Hyatt Gift Cards & Certificates and Hyatt Incentive Rewards, as well as global chair of HyPride, the company’s LGBT employee group. “Members of the LGBT community increasingly want to be included in the broader picture of a brand’s outreach. Gone are the days of rainbows and shirtless men around a pool.”  

Advertise appropriately.
“The biggest trend for travel companies today is showing support for the LGBT market by including LGBT imagery in advertising and marketing campaigns,” said Rick Stiffler, vice president of leisure sales at Preferred Hotel Group, which has a division called Preferred Pride that targets LGBT travelers.  

He adds, “Some companies even take it a step further and include LGBT marketing messages or images in their brand’s mainstream advertising campaigns. This makes a much bigger impact because the reality is that the LGBT community is not only reading popular LGBT publications such as Out and The Advocate, but also Travel + Leisure, The New York Times and other outlets just like everyone else. I would recommend that travel agencies consider placing their ads in LGBT publications for awareness alone.

Look for the total package.
“When travel agents are targeting LGBT community members for luxury and upscale business, they need to make sure they have done their homework and that the travel options they are selling are inclusive all the way through the travel experience,” said Tomlin. “The traveler, LGBT or otherwise, should walk away with an experience that makes them want to come back for more because they were treated with respect, inclusiveness and authentic hospitality — from booking to arriving home.” 

Identify differences within the niche and engage accordingly.
“The biggest advice is to do one’s research and understand the audience, including the differences within the LGBT community and the ways to address everything from terminology to buyer behavior across generations,” said Jeff Eisenhart, vice president of leisure sales and marketing for MGM Resorts International.  

Understand upscale.
“There’s a difference between ‘mass affluent’ people and the truly wealthy,” said David Paisley, senior research director at Community Marketing, Inc., the organizer of the Conference on LGBT Tourism & Hospitality. “It’s all about infiltrating their peer circles.”

Tip: If you’re going for the truly wealthy, you’re likely to find them at LGBT fundraisers.

Practice your pitch.
“Anyone who’s going after their business has to have a two-minute pitch,” Paisley said. “Practice it, know it and understand it: What is it about you, professionally, that would make a wealthy LGBT person want to do business with you?”

Be a joiner.
“Get involved in your local community and know what is happening in your backyard because there is a lot of business around you,” Stiffler said. “LGBT consumers support businesses that support them. The last thing agents/agencies want to do is be perceived as trying to capitalize on the gay dollar without truly supporting the community.”

In addition to attending conferences, Stiffler recommends that agents join organizations, such as the International Gay Lesbian Travel Association.

Tom Alderink, director of leisure sales for the northeast, mid-atlantic, midwest and eastern Canada for Belmond (which recently become a Silver Global Partner of the International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association), agreed that participating in the community is important. Businesses can then make their approach more relevant and understand the trends and resources available to the LGBT community. 

Another way to show support is by participating in high-profile fundraisers that benefit LGBT organizations and charities such as Human Rights Campaign, GLAAD (formerly Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation), GMHC (formerly Gay Men’s Health Crisis) and Jeffrey Fashion Cares.

“By doing so, you are not only showing your support for great causes but also getting directly in front of great prospective clients,” Stiffler said. “My personal opinion on the subject is that if they can pay $1,000 a head for dinner, they can also afford to stay at my hotels.”

Staff appropriately.
“An agency should employ agents that have thorough knowledge of the LGBT market because LGBT travel has special requirements and needs just like other segments, such as multigenerational travel,” Stiffler said. “While most travel planning follows a similar path, LGBT travelers may prefer to deal with an agent who makes them feel more comfortable.”

Use resources.
“Online content is an important tool to attract LGBT clients, as accessible information is what engages our consumers,” said Alderink, whose company recently launched a new LGBT microsite. “If we can relate to them on a personal level by using examples of what has worked in the past for other clients, it creates an experience that is more relatable and approachable.” 

Belmond's LGBT-dedicated microsite features “A Special Day” story of a same sex couple's surprise civil partnership ceremony onboard the Belmond Royal Scotsman for their friends and family. 

This natural approach of using a true experience creates a dialogue that will authentically engage the community, Alderink said.

Go mobile.
“According to Community Marketing, Inc.’s 8th Annual ‘Global LGBT Community Survey’ study, more than half of LGBT consumers have used a mobile device to purchase entertainment and travel, and this is reflective across all generations,” Eisenhart said. “Travel agencies should understand this buying behavior and find ways to communicate through this channel.”