Getting Started: Selling LGBT Travel to the Caribbean

A beautiful beach, such as Playa Kenepa Grandi in Curacao, is one of the top priorities for LGBT clients heading to the Caribbean. // Photo by Joe Pike

Safety, beaches and warm weather, culture, culinary and adventure sports tend to be the top five categories LGBT clients are interested in when traveling to the Caribbean. That’s according to a recent study conducted by Community Marketing and Insights (CMI), a San Francisco-based market research firm that specializes in outreach to the LGBT community.

As part of CMI’s 19th “LGBT Tourism & Hospitality Survey,” 4,108 total respondents completed the survey. This report focuses on United States data for 3,503 self-identified members of the LGBT community.

Indeed, focusing on the LGBT market could bring rich rewards for the Caribbean and for travel advisors seeking to expand their business. Overall, it’s a sector that’s valued at more than $200 billion, a stat that was first recorded in 2013 by Out Now Business Class. 

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"If the Caribbean wants to attract the LGBT community, they would be attracting almost an entirely new market to the region," David Paisley, the senior research director at CMI, told us. “There is a real opportunity for business growth and every island will take a stance. Some want the market and some don't and that's a choice they need to make. Every tourist office has a limited budget and you need to decide if that niche market works for your product. For some, it makes sense and for others, it may not be a top priority."

What are the key travel needs and desires for this group? Travel Agent delved into available research and spoke to industry experts to garner as much intel on the market as possible for those in our audience that would like to focus on the LGBT sector.

Safety is an Issue

According to many experts, when an LGBT client is deciding whether a destination is safe or not, they are looking for general safety as well as safety specifically related to this community. 

LGBT clients strongly prefer to travel to destinations that they consider safe and do not have laws that discriminate against LGBT residents and travelers. According to the CMI study, 11 percent of respondents indicated that they are willing to travel to a country that has laws against LGBT people.

Paisley of CMI says the LGBT community overall tends to keep a close eye on how each island deals with the local LGBT community; if locals are reported as being treated unfairly, the overall perception of that island is that it's not necessarily safe for the LGBT community to travel to.

The $200 Billion Industry

LGBT travel trends and patterns in general were part of the program for the recently concluded Travel Industry Exchange in Orlando. A panel on the subject drew some of the highest attendance of any of the show's educational sessions.

It was moderated by LoAnn Halden, communications director for the International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association (IGLTA), a global travel network dedicated to connecting and educating LGBT travelers and the businesses that welcome and support them along the way.

The panel members were Jim McMichael, diversity and cultural manager for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority; Tom Alderink, Belmond's first director of LGBT sales; and Vicky Garcia, chief operating officer for Cruise Planners.

"The biggest evolution is that we are recognized as a viable market now," says Halden, who confirmed that the LGBT market is estimated to be worth about $200 billion a year. 

The reason the market is so lucrative, according to many experts, is because, generally speaking, LGBT clients tend to spend far more money than their non-gay counterparts, since many LGBT couples have more disposable income mainly due to the fact that most do not travel with children. Note, however, this doesn't mean that most LGBT clients do not have children. This may have been the case perhaps 10 years ago, when adoption for gay couples was more difficult.

Many marketers think of LGBTs with children as a more recent phenomenon, but when asked about the age of the children in the household, just over half of the families have at least one child over age 10.

Last year, LGBT parents took a median two vacation trips with their children. Most (74 percent) report staying in a hotel at least one time. However, fewer than half of parents indicated air travel with their children, preferring drive vacations.

Fun Is All-Inclusive

The idea that the LGBT community doesn't like to travel among the non-gay community in the Caribbean - or anywhere around the world for that matter – is just another misperception, say experts. 

In fact, gay bars, nightclubs or any other form of entertainment that exclusively targets the LGBT community are not even in the top three priorities of members of this niche market heading to the Caribbean, according to experts we spoke to.

"What I'm starting to see is more and more mixed groups," says Frank M. Holtslag, general manager of the Floris Suite Hotel, Spa and Beach Club, often considered Curacao's most LGBT-welcoming resort. "I see this mainly in Key West, but think there will be more of it in the Caribbean, more gay and straight people traveling together as there continues to be more and more open-minded people who want to mingle with the gay community."

Garcia says that blending of gay and straight clients can also be found on cruises today.

In fact, according to the CMI study, only a third of LGBT consumers indicated that they have chosen a hotel or brand based on their LGBT reputation in the past 12 months. These results may indicate that LGBT marketing strategies based solely on increasing LGBT reputation may only influence about a third of LGBT travelers today.

Compared to Baby Boomers, Millennials are half as likely to stay in small accommodations dedicated to gay men or lesbians. The trend may be a concern for this category of accommodation.

Not All LGBT Clients Believe in Boycotting an Island

As we previously mentioned, according to the CMI study, 11 percent of respondents indicated that they are willing to travel to a country that has laws against LGBT people.

However, having old anti-gay laws still on the books doesn't necessarily make it an unsafe destination for LGBT clients.

"We are a business association and we are all about growing business and building bridges," says John Tanzella, president and CEO of the IGLTA. "Boycotting does not help us achieve this. We are not the right association to boycott. It's better to be there and be seen. But we don't encourage doing anything radical. Whether you are gay or straight, you have to be mindful of the local culture and laws."

LGBT Clients Book With Non-LGBT Agents

Many experts we spoke to say a misperception is that LGBT clients only book with LGBT advisors. While you don't have to be an LGBT person to sell this market, it is important to do identify yourself as an advocate of this market. McMichael says the biggest buzzword a straight agent selling LGBT travel should use is "LGBT Ally."

"This is a strong buzzword you can use that shows you are engaged in this community," he says. "You might not be gay, but you are an ally of the community. Use that buzzword."

Start Selling LGBT Travel to the Caribbean Now 

Now that we’ve given you some facts to help get acquainted with your potential LGBT clients heading to the Caribbean, here are a couple of hot leads to give you a head start in making some money on the market.

Aruba Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino recently launched its Pride in Paradise package that was created with LGBT travelers in mind. An IGLTA-certified hotel in a gay-friendly destination, Aruba Marriott’s Pride in Paradise package includes luxe accommodations in the Tradewinds Club (the resort’s adults-only club level), champagne and cheese upon arrival, a private catered balcony dinner, a cabana at the H2Oasis adults-only pool, a sunset sail for two, and exclusive amenities (such as a pillow menu). The Pride in Paradise package starts at $623 per night with promo code 8LG.

Visit www.marriott.com

San Juan Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino, located in Puerto Rico’s trendy, artsy Condado neighborhood, features many LGBT-friendly attractions. The hotel offers a Pride and Joy Couples package including a pool view room, VIP airport transfers, daily breakfast, and a wine and cheese platter. The upscale tropical resort sits right on the beach in an ideal location overlooking both the stunning ocean waters and the city. Within minutes from the hotel, there’s shopping, endless food options, and busy nightlife in Condado and Old San Juan. Between salsa dancing and live music, local art and culture, its casino, and housing the most popular lobby bar in the Caribbean, San Juan Marriott is a bustling, cultural hotspot. The Pride and Joy Couples package starts at $275 per night with promo code 4LG.

Visit www.marriott.com

Stay tuned to www.travelagentcentral.com for the second part of the series, in which we will tell you some of the best hotels in the Caribbean for the LGBT market. Be sure to follow Travel Agent's Joe Pike on Twitter:

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