How should luxury travel advisors cater to high-end gay and lesbian travelers? The answer is simple: Understand what the clients want, match them to the right product, and communicate their preferences to suppliers. In other words, “just do business as usual.”
That was the consensus of an industry panel on luxury LGBTQ travel during Virtuoso Travel Week in Las Vegas last month.
The panelists and moderator, all of them gay men, agreed that LGBTQ travelers do not want or need special treatment. “It’s important that we treat them just like we would every other luxury travel client. It’s just being a good agent. There are no special needs. It’s just paying attention,” said panelist Peter Lloyd, regional director – south for Travel Edge.
Even so, panelists cautioned, there are nuances to serving LGBTQ luxury travelers that travel agents should take into consideration.
Getting it right is well worth the effort, suggested panel moderator Simon Mayle, event director for Reed Travel Exhibitions. LGBTQ travelers spend 33 percent more on travel than non-LGBT travelers and travel an average of four to six times annually, said Mayle, citing research from OutNow Global LGBT 2030.
Significantly for luxury travel advisors, 43 percent of over-40 gay and lesbian travelers and 63 percent of their younger counterparts prefer to book tailor-made vacations through a travel agent, Mayle said, referencing data from the Community Marketing Report.
And the market is growing. “By 2030, according to UNWTO, there’ll be 180 million LGBTQ travelers worldwide. That’s 55 percent of the current population of the U.S.,” said Mayle, adding that a “staggering” 31 percent of Centennials (those born in 1996 and after) identify as LGBTQ.
LGBTQ travelers and their allies are happy to spend more for products and experiences that make them feel comfortable, he pointed out. “Two-thirds [of the LGBTQ market] are frustrated by the way brands treat them, and 46 percent would support a brand that supports them, even if it’s more expensive or more inconvenient to do so.”
One nuance that agents should be aware of when serving LGBTQ clients is hotel bedding. Lloyd of Travel Edge said that when he and his husband check in to a hotel, the clerk often asks them, in a tone of disbelief, “You’re in the same bed?”
A travel advisor can and should head off such misunderstandings, he said. “If it is two guys or two ladies going on a trip together, simply ask, ‘What’s your preferred bedding?’ Then make sure the hotel is aware of that. Relate to the hotel, in advance, that this is a gay or lesbian married couple.”
Travel agents shouldn’t be shy about asking their LGBTQ clients about issues like bedding preferences and how to characterize their relationship, advised Mayle. “When you’re unsure, ask, ‘How would you like to be referred to? Would you like me to advise the hotel that you are a gay couple and that you would like a double bed?’”
As in all travel bookings, communication is pivotal, said Jeff Sirota, senior director, industry partnerships, for Protravel International. “It’s like anything – the better your communication level, the better the attention to detail on both ends. This would be no different than any other booking. Any good travel advisor is going to be filling in the hotel on specifics that are relevant to their clients.”
As for how to market to LGBTQ luxury travelers, panelists agreed that while it can be helpful for an agent or agency to include LGBTQ travel as a specialty on their website and to mention their memberships in organizations like IGLTA, you don’t need to put too much emphasis on the market segment or fly a rainbow flag.
“I’m over the rainbow flag,” said one travel agent in the audience who identified herself as a lesbian. “I love the word ‘welcoming.’ I find that easier than, ‘We love the gays.’”
Mayle urged agents to: “First and foremost, market yourself as being a luxury travel advisor and the importance of using a travel advisor. There are parts of the community who think they can do it better or that they know best. That’s step number one for me, this is what the travel advisor can do for you.”
Above all, Lloyd emphasized, treat LGBTQ clients like any other luxury travel clients, while directing them to properties and destinations that will welcome then. “Then you will get the referrals.”