According to Community Marketing, Inc., a leading LGBT consumer marketing firm, LGBT tourism is a remarkable $63 billion-strong industry.
Whether rural or urban, for a business trip or personal vacation, LGBT travelers can, without a doubt, be found in nearly every hotel in the nation.
The question then becomes how to market to such a diverse niche market. How do you let those incoming travelers know you want their business, and how do you as a consumer support those hotels, restaurants and attractions that welcome you? For example, do you need a staff member to become a PFLAG member, participate in LGBT events and advertise in publications? The answer isn’t as simple as a quick fix.
A mixture of several of the items listed below would be needed, and more than that — a staff with open minds and open hearts that makes visitors feel welcome.
Here are a few options I have personally seen that have provided results and allowed me to gain exposure for my hotels and attractions in the past, and reach out to LGBT travelers.
If you are a hotel, attraction, or restaurant:
• Consider becoming TAG-approved through Community Marketing, Inc. (Note: What is “TAG”? Explain by spelling it out and then put TAG in parenthesis.) This will allow travel planners, meeting planners and guests to see what properties welcome their business.
• If you are in a town that has a Pride event, have a booth there to make sure people are aware your hotel or business welcomes LGBT travelers. This might allow you to book their business travel, commitment ceremonies, meetings, groups and leisure travel. (See interpride.org for a listing of Pride events)
• Make sure your staff is sensitive to the needs of our market (example: Don’t ask two guys or girls if they need two beds — simply verify their reservation as it was made by the room type they are in).
• Make use of the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index (available at hrc.org) to find out businesses that have LGBT affinity groups. These groups meet in various locations, and have great potential to increase your market share.
• If you are in a larger city, research LGBT associations and groups to see if you could host their next event. There are literally hundreds of LGBT corporate, leisure and social associations that are open to meet in various regions of the U.S. For smaller cities — try simply calling and introducing yourself — you might actually move a piece of business to your area that might not usually consider your location such as a board or regional meeting.
If you are an LGBT traveler:
• Support those hotels, attractions, restaurants, etc. that are supporting you. If you have a local gay bookstore or publication, see if they have business cards, advertise your business, and support them. Make them aware that you support them because they support you. If the manager, supervisor, or owner can see the actual dollars being spent by our community, they are much more likely to find new ways to attract our community. They are in business to make money and profit, and we are in the position to make their business succeed.
• When making hotel, car rental, airline, etc. reservations as an individual traveler, go on websites like gaytravelocity.com or orbitz.com (and click the LGBT link). Many of these sites are trying to reach out to us, so make an effort to use their links to book your travel. The more we use those links, the higher our visibility and market credibility will climb.
• Contact the local convention and visitors bureaus for the cities you are traveling to. Many cities now have special links for LGBT travel on their website.
More than anything else, make sure you take pride in your stay. As a niche market, we impact so many cities and industries in so many ways. If you are out, let companies know you appreciate their support, or ask for support in places you do not have good experiences. Let your voice be heard!
Can a community as diverse as leather daddies to lipstick lesbians, from post or pre-op transsexuals to gay doctors, etc. become recognized as a valid target market when we have by our own culture segmented ourselves into smaller groups? Without any doubt, the answer is yes. We are a varied community, but we are one that can be marketed to from an inclusive LGBT perspective. It is about a group of people that come together — whether in specific groups or inclusive functions like Pride celebrations. We are a group of people to be respected, valued and have viability as a travel market group.
One of the many ways we can gain respect and consideration is to control where, and to whom, we give our financial support. Many of the things we do so well are our fabulous Pride events, vacations and weekend getaways. If we channel that into buying patterns, and book through channels specific to LGBT travel then our travel can be tracked and understood by hotel, airline and restaurant companies — all to prove our market strength. This will only further allow us to become a stronger, more pursued group of customers.
Businesses seek out consumers they know can purchase their products, and become profitable. When we prove our worth as a niche market, businesses will pursue our community, and employees will see our faces. Then, through personal interaction and stories, we can, in fact, change society to become more inclusive for LGBT consumers. : :