Tapping Into The Gay and Lesbian Market

Travel Agents seeking new, lucrative marketing opportunities should take a look at the gay and lesbian travel market. According to new gay-specific Community Marketing Inc. (CMI) research, gay and lesbian travelers make up  5 to 10 percent of more of the travel industry. "Most critically," CMI Analysis says, "their travel dollars go to suppliers and destinations that recognize their unique buying preferences and offer them differentiated value."

The annual economic impact of gay and lesbian travelers is approximately $70.3 billion in the U.S. alone—or a conservative 5 percent of the U.S. tourism industry, San Francisco-base CMI says.

The size and potential of the market are among the reasons why key travel suppliers, such as Travel Impressions, a major wholesaler, recently launched programs targeting gay and lesbian market.

Helping Agents Tap In
"When developing this program, we paid close attention to the data and trends in the gay and lesbian travel market. By doing so, we were able to make informed chocies about the features we would offer, such as providing a website where consumers could browse but not book, saving that for the travel agent, and creating a gay-friendly verified product line that could be booked with confidence," says John Hanratty, chief marketing officer of Travel Impressions. "Through the Gay & Lesbian Travel program, we help agents tap into a growing market they might find too challenging to enter without support."

Travel Impressions is not alone in recognizing the importance of the market. earlier this month, the National Tour Association (NTA) announced a partnership with the International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association (IGLTA). The goal: cooperation on a variety of marketing, education and research opportunities.

"Tour operators are IGLTA's second-largest membership category and we want to support their business," says IGLTA Executive Director John Tanzella. "Partnering with NTA gives us an opportunity to reach out to this very important segment of the travel industry."

"NTA Believes strongly in bringing the industry together for the better of travel and tourism, as well as for increasing business for our members," says newly elected NTA Chairman and CEO Michele Michalewicz. "This new agreement will open new doors for the NTA members by connecting them with the progressive IGLTA membership and expertise."

IGLTA was founded in 1983 and now has 1,800 members. It provides a host of resources to travel agents and the industry that serve the gay and lesbian market. IGLTA has members in 55 countries, including accommodations, airline, tour operators, travel agents, tourism offices, media and other key players in the tourism industry.

The deal with the NTA parallels an agreement with ASTA, announced in 2005. ASTA offers a certification course on the GLBT (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender) market, as does The Travel Institute.

Germany's Efforts

Suppliers and destinations are also active in attracting GLBT travelers. The German National Tourist Office, for example, recently dedicated a section of its website to GLBT travelers at a new mini portal within its www.cometogermany.com site.

Gay life is deeply integrated into German culture; Christopher Street Day parades are on many cities' agendas for 2009 while others are already looking forward to the celebration of the Gay Games VIII Cologne in July 2010. About 12,000 participants from more than 70 countries are expected to converge on the city for the event.

What It Spells For Agents

This all adds up to a well-defined market that takes much of the guesswork out of sales and promotion. CMI notes that the market includes both business and leisure travel to international and domestic U.S. destinations. The GLBT market is also a repeat travel market with its own niches. It's also resilient and includes upscale luxury yours, special events and cruises.

If there is a challenge for travel agents, it is communicating the value of the services they can provide to consumers. Statistics show that half of GLBT leisure travel is now booked directly with the travel supplier, CMI reports, while 37 percent is booked through a travel website (such as Travelocity or Orbitz), 8 percent with travel agents, and 5 percent with tour operators. Twenty-one percent of business trips were booked with a travel agent, with other methods proportionally reduced. Word-of-mouth recommendations are very important, as is confidence that travel agents are knowledgeable about selling a "gay-friendly" property.

Experts in the market agree that breaking into this market is getting increasingly competitive and that agents must do their homework before they promote their capabilities. The good news? A lot of free expertise is available that provides a solid starting point to enter this dynamic market—all backed by quality suppliers and associations.