Aditi Hardikar, the LGBT liaison to President Barack Obama, accepted the International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association (IGLTA) Chair Award on his behalf at IGLTA’s 32nd Annual Global Convention. // © 2015 IGLTA
Feature image (above): The IGLTA Foundation Event, held on day one of the convention, at Montage Beverly Hills. // © 2015 IGLTA
The International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association (IGLTA) kicked off its 32nd Annual Global Convention in Los Angeles on April 8-11. Tourism professionals from 27 countries convened to dive into the ever-changing landscape of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender travel for the group’s most successful conference yet.
Started in 1983, IGLTA was initially composed of a small group of travel agents and guesthouse owners. Now, the group has grown to become the leading member-based global organization dedicated to LGBT and LGBT-friendly accommodations, destinations, service providers, travel agents, tour operators, events and travel media around the globe.
This year, the White House was represented for the first time, as the LGBT liaison to President Barack Obama, Aditi Hardikar, accepted the IGLTA Chair Award on his behalf for his support of the community. Another highlight was the annual buyer/supplier marketplace, which brought in agents and operators who represented more than $1.2 billion in global LGBT travel business.
To get more insight into the happenings of the 2015 convention, we spoke to Ed Salvato, IGLTA board member and editor-in-chief of digital magazine Man About World, about conference highlights and top travel trends of interest to travel agents working with LGBT clients.
As a LGBT travel professional, what was something new that you explored at this year's IGLTA convention?
During this convention, I had my mind opened quite a bit more on the topic of transgender travel. We describe ourselves as an LGBT travel organization, but there typically hasn’t been that much discussion of the T — transgender.
What did you learn about transgender travelers?
In the session entitled, “Who is the ‘T’ in LGBT?” with Richard Gray of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau and Lexi Dee of Southern Comfort Conference, I learned a lot about the demographics, characteristics and behaviors of this hidden-in-plain-sight segment.
If we — as an industry — wish to authentically invite all LGBT travelers, we must understand transgender travelers and what motivates them.
Fort Lauderdale is a leader in this space, and the destination has already booked a major transgender conference [Southern Comfort], so their efforts are both laudable from a social standpoint and paying off from a business standpoint.
Were there any other sessions you enjoyed?
Another breakout the same day was “Straight Talk on LGBT Travel” with moderator Aditi Hardikar and panelists Jack Markey from the U.S. Department of State and Christopher Lamora from Los Angeles Passport Agency. The U.S. Department of State touched on issues including identification papers and gender presentation and passports.
Who were some of the top partnerships and sponsorships with for this year's convention?
The major sponsors and partners included the Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board, Delta Airlines, South Africa National Convention Bureau and Visit West Hollywood. Other sponsors included City of Athens, IBM, Visit St. Petersburg/Clearwater, Visit Britain and Out & Equal, among many others.
Are there new LGBT travel trends that would be helpful for travel agents working with the community to know about?
LGBT travelers are very interested in learning about authentic travel experiences, similar to many contemporary travelers. They don’t want to simply show up and go to the best restaurants and museums — they want to experience the destination like a local in many ways.
Another trend is group travel for celebratory experiences, including weddings and birthdays.
What should travel agents know about demographics?
There is a new segment that never really existed before: out men over the age of 50. This segment was not out till the ‘80s, and then many died during the AIDS crisis.
Today, this growing gay baby boomer generation has a lot of disposable time and money — and a willingness to spend it. They travel more often than their heterosexual counterparts and spend more when they do travel. They travel for celebrations and milestones as mentioned, but also to attend events such as Pride.
They like cruising, and they like traveling abroad. These travelers are independent and can make their own travel arrangements for easy destinations, but for their group travel needs or anything more complicated — honeymoons or travel to more exotic destinations — they are very willing to use the services of a travel agent.
What can travel agents expect if they want to attend the IGLTA 2016 conference in Cape Town?
The Cape Town conference may be a little smaller than the one in Los Angeles, but it will have a robust buyersupplier market and many representatives from Africa. The pre- and post-tour options will be extraordinary.