Holidays should be a memorable experience for clients, but sometimes this can be for all the wrong reasons. For travellers who identify as LGBTQ+ this often requires endless hours of research into which destinations, hotels and activities are going to be not just actively welcoming, but also safe.
“For individuals to be truly free to embrace all aspects of their personalities and be proud of who they are, differences must be more than tolerated; they must not only be accepted but celebrated,” says Ellie Jones, Founder and CEO of Liberate, a Guernsey based charity supporting the LGBTQ+ community.
However, this isn’t always the case for LGBTQ+ travellers. Recent research from Booking.com has shone a light on the specific challenges faced by LGBTQ+ holidaymakers, with 71% revealing that they have felt uncomfortable while on holiday. Other findings showed that when selecting a destination, 61% report they have to consider their safety and wellbeing, while 47% said it impacts the activities they participate in when away.
Many destinations pride themselves on being LGBTQ+ friendly, and offer year-round tailored product for the LGBTQ+ community.
This July saw London mark 50 Years since the first Pride took place in the UK, with the capital also frequently topping the list of best LGBTQ+ destinations.
Meanwhile, new LGBTQ+ tour operator Chillimix has just introduced Malta by offering city breaks along with packages to Europride, which runs from September 7-17, 2023.
A host of U.S. destinations have their own dedicated Pride celebrations, often spanning over several days or weeks.
In Florida, Tampa Pride usually takes place in March and the destination also boasts Pride on the River, the nation’s first Pride boat parade. October sees the Tampa International Gay & Lesbian Film Festival, showcasing LGBTQ+ focused stories from 30-plus years ago.
Japan is also leading the way in LGBTQ+ Pride events or, ‘Rainbow Pride’ as they’re known, with events happening in many big cities and growing in size year on year.
“Tokyo, Osaka, Fukuoka and Sapporo all have thriving scenes,and nightlife to accompany them, and have equally amazing Pride celebrations throughout the calendar year; Tokyo in April, Osaka in October, Fukuoka in November and Sapporo in September,” says Matthew Joslin, Senior Marketing & Comms Manager – JNTO London Office.
Channel Islands Pride returns to Guernsey this year, kicking off on September 3. Live acts will include Element 6, RuPaul Drag Race star Tia Kofi and music from headline act The Freemasons with Amanda Wilson and Katherine Ellis.
Sydney, Australia, will host Sydney WorldPride from February 17- to March 5, 2023, a 17-day celebration of the LGBTQIA+ community, with over 300 events across the city.
LGBTQ+ travellers are eager to connect with the LGBTQ+ community, history, and attractions when on holiday, the Booking.com research highlights, with 65% saying they are more likely to travel to a destination that celebrates its local LGBTQ+ community and history.
Visit Gay Osaka aims to involve visitors in local LGBTQ+ culture, such as bar-hopping tours with local guides and lunch with local drag queens, adds Joslin.
“They also operate broader Japanese experience group tours (samurai, ninja, temples, shrines) with all-LGBT participants, run by Out Adventures.
“Elsewhere, Out of Office.com offers tailor-made as well as group trips of Japan aimed at LGBTQ+ visitors.”
There’s plenty out there to help agents find the right product to recommend and education is key, says Tolene van der Merwe, Director: UK & Ireland, Malta Tourism Authority.
“Ensure you are recommending the right destinations by checking the ILGA-Europe Rainbow Index, of which Malta is first and has been for seven consecutive years. We are focusing on incentivising travel agents to take our LGBTQ+ course on our Malta Training Programme, which includes six lessons and a quiz.”
Tampa Bay produces Tampa Gay, an LGBTQ guide with handy resources for agents selling to LGBTQ+ travellers, with top tips and the diverse range of experiences to be had in the city. It also has a dedicated section for agents on its website.
“The diversity of Tampa Bay is part of what makes us so special – from our Cuban, German, and Italian history in Ybor City to our Black history and our continually growing LGBTQ+ community,” adds Santiago C. Corrada, President and CEO, Visit Tampa Bay.
With their in-depth knowledge and vast network of contacts, agents are well-placed to cater for the needs of the LGBTQ+ community, making sure they have a safe and memorable trip.
“We believe that travel should be accessible and inclusive for all and we want to learn and understand from our travel industry partners, from the experts, to discuss the most effective practice, to highlight what we are already doing, and find out if we can improve,” says Corrada.
Most importantly for travel agents, the research highlighted the role of personalisation as one way the industry can better respond to the LGBTQ+ travellers’ needs. Of those surveyed, 31% would like more tailored recommendations for their preferences and interests. A further 36% would like additional information shared on the LGBTQ+ status of the location, including local laws, religious sensibilities, and clothing mandatories.
“There’s a huge diversity of LGBTQ+ people, so find what they like and don’t like and tailor your approach accordingly,” says the JNTO’s Joslin.
“Communication and transparency with suppliers is key and agents should work as the go-between to make sure that people on the destination-side are aware of the details of the booking.”
Adds van der Merwe: “Signpost them to specific nights where they can meet like-minded travellers and locals. There are a host of LGBTQ+ club nights, including S2S Events, Lollipop and Michelangelo Club, but it’s good to remember Malta is inclusive in all its venues, restaurants etc.”
An important consideration, which often gets overlooked, is that the transgender community may need additional advice and guidance, says Joslin.
“Some places, those mainly further off the beaten track, destinations, may operate on a gender binary. If a client doesn’t identify with the gender assigned to them on their passport, it’s important to let the relevant travel operator know. Some, such as Intrepid, will arrange accordingly.”
With nearly half (46%) of LGBTQ+ travellers having experienced discrimination while traveling, through being subjected to stereotyping (26%) being stared at, laughed at or verbally abused by other travellers (13%) and/or locals (16%), they face added issues when navigating a trip – but agents can help guide them through the complexities.