Event attracts a record 678 delegates from 49 countries. Samantha Mayling reports from New York

LGBTQ+ specialists advised to market themselves better

Specialists in the LGBTQ+ sector have been told they must market themselves on social media and in their local communities to boost sales.

Establishing their expertise and adding value will set specialist agencies apart from online rivals, agents said during a round-table session at the IGLTA Convention.

The session was attended by agents from Europe, the US, South America, the Middle East and Asia.

Moderator Dan Howell, founder of Dan Howell Travel in the US, said that for agents specialising in the LGBTQ+ market, “luxury baby-boomers are our bread and butter”. But he added that IGLTA research had found that 44% of millennials say it is worth using travel agents because of their expertise – a higher proportion than for other age groups.

Agents shared tips about face-to-face networking with local chambers of commerce, hobby and special-interest community groups, charities, schools and business associations.

Networking opportunities at LGBTQ+ events, venues and Pride celebrations offer the chance to tap into a growing and lucrative market, they said.

Agents were urged to hold events with operators and to sponsor sports teams or other organisations.

Online, agencies were advised to advertise via social media, and to use LGBTQ+ imagery available from cruise lines and operators on marketing, blogs, offers and newsletters.

Specialising in niches and customising trips will set agencies apart from OTAs, agents heard as they discussed their duty of care to clients, such as advising them on cultural sensitivities and safety.

“Gay agents can speak more authoritatively about what is good for gay travellers,” said Howell.

Communities must ‘pioneer change’

The LGBTQ+ community must be “pioneers of change in our destinations”, a specialist researcher recommended.

Peter Jordan, founder of Gen C Traveller, told delegates that LGBTQ+ people had helped to gentrify rundown neighbourhoods around the world and should now be in the vanguard to improve destinations for visitors, locals and businesses.

“Destination management organisations must communicate with local businesses, political leaders and residents . . . and build coalitions of the willing to co-create your LGBTQ+ strategy,” he said, citing examples of his work in Barcelona and Colombia. “We can build inclusive, diverse places to live and they’ll be great places to visit.”

Support means ‘more than waving a rainbow flag’

Marketing to the LGBTQ+ community means more than just “waving a rainbow flag”, according to researchers from Community Marketing and Insights (CMI).

roth-headshotThomas Roth, CMI’s founder and executive vice-president, said: “Our research shows that people in the LGBTQ+ community will support companies that support them… but most don’t know about your support unless you tell them.

“Get the word out about what you are doing.”

David Paisley, CMI’s senior research director, said many travel firms were seen as LGBTQ+ friendly, so companies need to better understand the market’s different identities.

“The market is expanding and becoming more diverse,” he said. “The family market is expanding, but more so in the lesbian market, so marketing material that features two gay men with a kid won’t be good for lesbians with kids.

“Don’t forget Generation X – aged 37-54 – as they can often be the best customers.”

Association sets sights on recruiting more UK agents

IGLTA will be targeting UK travel agents ahead of its 2020 convention in Milan.

The association hopes hosting its annual convention in northern Italy will attract more delegates from Europe and encourage more British agents to join IGLTA.

President and chief executive John Tanzella said: “The UK is a very advanced market for LGBTQ+ travellers, so it’s a great revenue opportunity for agents.

“It would be wonderful to have more members from the UK.”

The association works in 82 countries and has about 50 UK members, including hotels, tourism boards and agents.

“LGBTQ+ travellers travel more than the mainstream travel community, so for agents, it’s a business opportunity,” said Tanzella.

“There are more destinations marketing themselves to the LGBTQ+ sector and more travellers are going to non-typical destinations, such as secondary cities in the US, and even places such as Uganda.”

Membership ranges from $245 to $500 a year, depending on business size, and allows a company to use the IGLTA logo.

“Our Milan convention next year also will be a great opportunity for education,” added Tanzella of the May 6-9, 2020, event.

The association produces reports investigating issues affecting LGBTQ+ travel, such as safety in destinations around the world – which Tanzella said is the number-one issue for LGBTQ+ travellers.

Volunteer members act as ambassadors in each country, offering advice to members or curating experiences for clients.

IGLTA works with other travel bodies such as Etoa and the European Travel Commission.

Google reports shift to visual searches

Google is seeing a shift from voice searches towards more visual queries as artificial intelligence develops, IGLTA delegates heard.

Dougal Mckenzie, the tech giant’s industry head for travel, said: “People can hold a smartphone up to a building. The camera will recognise it and give them details about prices and menus.”

Mckenzie said more than half of searches were now on mobile, and warned that a poor experience would send users elsewhere.

Another speaker said social media channels were a key consideration for companies targeting the LGBTQ+ market.

Nicolas Graf, associate dean at NYU School of Professional Studies, Jonathan M Tisch Center of Hospitality, said LGBTQ+ marketers were also using channels such as TripAdvisor and dating apps.

Firms urged to establish needs of transgender clients

Campaigners urged travel companies and organisations to talk to them directly to find out the requirements of transgender customers.

Mara-KeislingMara Keisling, founder and executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said: “Travel is different for transgender people, as we have additional concerns about ID documents, healthcare and facilities.”

Keisling talked about a “terrifying” experience crossing the border between the Czech Republic and Poland, along with another trans woman and her 80-year old mother, as the officials took a long time to consider their documents.

Toilet facilities are a further worry for transgender travellers, and Keisling said gender-neutral bathrooms were an important consideration.

Transgender physicist Ophelia Pastrana urged delegates to talk to LGBTQ+ people online via social media channels such as YouTube, because of the problems faced by transgender people in the mainstream media.

“TV does not reflect the transgender community, but you can reach millions online,” she said.

“LGBTQ youth go online to find information and advice about how to transition.”