- The LGBTQ community accounts for an estimated $3.9 trillion in purchasing power each year.
- There is a strong community of tourism businesses promoting LGBTQ interests across the globe.
- Still, more than 70 countries outlaw homosexuality.
- This article is part of a series called “The Cost of Inequity,” examining the hurdles that marginalized and disenfranchised groups face across a range of sectors.
The LGBTQ travel industry has come a long way over the past four decades, from operating largely in secret to becoming a multibillion-dollar sector of its own.
When the International LGBTQ+ Travel Association, or IGLTA, was founded in 1983, it was a mostly underground network of 25 travel businesses dedicated to providing its clients a safe and welcoming travel experience.
Now it operates in more than 80 countries with Delta Air Lines, Marriott, Hilton, Disney Destinations, and others as partners. Its mission is to provide information and resources to the LGBTQ community while advocating to further its social and economic impact globally.
But there is still a long way to go before truly equitable travel becomes a reality.
At least 70 countries still outlaw homosexuality, according to Human Rights Watch. Some of those countries are home to popular tourist attractions, such as the pyramids of Egypt and Caribbean beaches of Jamaica, Barbados, and Saint Lucia.
Destinations and businesses that are not welcoming to LGBTQ travelers are missing out on a huge economic opportunity. The corporate advisory and asset management firm LGBT Capital estimates that the community accounts for $3.9 trillion in purchasing power worldwide each year. In 2016, Out Now estimated that the LGBTQ travel market could be worth as much as $211 billion annually.
And according to surveys conducted by IGLTA, members of the LGBTQ community are largely eager to travel again as the rollout of vaccines continues. A recent IGLTA survey of 6,324 people from around the world who identify as LGBTQ found that 73% plan to take a major vacation before the end of 2021. And 23% had already booked a vacation in the previous week.
One way that the market can grow is by educating those in power about what they have to gain by becoming more welcoming. IGLTA aims to educate government and business leaders and entities about the LGBTQ community to show it’s a “viable economic community, but also that it’s a human-rights issue to provide equal opportunity and equal acceptance to all,” IGLTA CEO John Tanzella said in a recent interview with Insider.
While organizations like IGLTA seek to provide information and resources to the LGBTQ community, they stop short of telling people to boycott locations where they might not feel as welcome.
“Egypt certainly doesn’t have good laws for LGBTQ people, but you can’t tell someone not to go to see the pyramids. They’re something everyone should see before they die,” Tanzella said. “It’s about going and being safe, but being visible and supporting the LGBTQ community and supporting the diversity of communities and organizations there.
“And that’s easy to do. You just have to do a little homework before you go,” he said, adding that travelers should read up on local LGBTQ issues before heading out on a trip.
Plus, Tanzella said, discrimination against LGBTQ people can happen anywhere, no matter how progressive a travel destination’s laws are, so it’s important not to appear to be limiting access.
Improving LGBTQ representation in marketing
Including diverse representation in advertising and other brand messaging is another important element in advancing LGBTQ travel, experts told with Insider.
Expedia Group-owned Orbitz is an IGLTA partner and has featured LGBTQ people in its ads since it was founded in 2001.
In 2002, it launched gayorbitz.com, which featured information about LGBTQ-friendly vacation destinations. In doing so, Orbitz became the first online travel agency to host pages dedicated to the LGBTQ community. And, in 2003, it was credited with running the first TV ads featuring “unambiguously gay representations in a mainstream pitch to LGBTQIA consumers,” the company said.
In August 2020, Orbitz launched a travel hub promoting hotels, events, and destinations that are welcoming to the LGBTQ community. It takes things a step further by asking hotels to commit to a pledge of inclusivity and nondiscrimination before they can be featured on the site. Orbitz provides additional guidance to hotels on things like training staff to use pronouns and to provide information about LGBTQ-friendly neighborhoods and activities.
“We had realized that travel is a huge force for good in the world. It can connect people and expose them to new cultures, new people,” Carey Malloy, brand director at Orbitz, said.
“And we also realized that different types of people have different needs, and travel isn’t always accessible to everyone in the same way, which is why we have always stood for the idea of access.”
Orbitz recently rolled out an ad campaign called “Travel As You Are” featuring a diverse set of LGBTQ couples.
Tanzella said that education around diversity and intersectionality in the LGBTQ community has been a major focus in recent years.
“It used to be where companies’ imagery or marketing was one size fits all,” he said. “It would be, you know, a group of white, built, hairless gay guys in Speedos, and then that’s the image for the LGBTQ community, but it doesn’t really appeal to all the segments within our community.
“That’s really evolved over the years, just simple outreach and marketing to our community.”