Meeting the Needs of the LGBT Travel Market

By Darrell Schuurman Co-Founder, Canadian Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce | September 21, 2014

In my last article, I wrote about the importance of diversifying your customer base and how the LGBT market offers great opportunities for hotel operators. However, to be successful in this market, or any market for that matter, it is critical that you know who this market is and what they are looking for. Without this, you will not be able to successfully meet their expectations.

To get a better understanding of the market, research firm Protean Strategies examined the Canadian LGBT traveler by segmenting the market into more meaningful groups. They developed a four segment model based on the travelers' needs state (defined in experiential terms rather than benefit or attribute) for a particular trip. The requirements of a trip, therefore, was not defined by demographic, psychographic, or traditional benefit attributes, but rather by the experience sought. They identified four segments: a trip where being LGBT makes no difference; an LGBT trip with LGBT friends to do LGBT things; a trip to an LGBT location or an LGBT cruise; and a trip explicitly to party in an LGBT environment. From their 2014 research, when examined based on these four experiential need segments, it was shown that 64% of trips taken by LGBT travelers was for a trip where being LGBT made no difference. For the most part, LGBT travelers are looking for the type of experience that the general mainstream traveler looks for.

When examining why LGBT travelers choose a destination, the leading reasons are not-LGBT specific; attractions, culinary, arts & culture, cost, and visiting family and friends top the list. LGBT specific offerings, such as targeted events and bars are much lower down the list. However, when looking at the most important attributes a destination must offer, safety comes in at number two with 93% saying it is a very or somewhat very important attribute, followed closely by an LGBT friendly reputation (91%). What this says is that, when choosing a place to travel to, the destination must be safe and inviting, but those are not necessarily the reasons why they will ultimately select a destination. In other words, they expect the places they visit to be welcoming; if a destination is not seen as friendly, it won't even be considered.

So when it comes to choosing accommodations, what attributes are most important to the market? The 2014 research by Protean Strategies shows that price is the most important attribute, followed by location (specifically proximity to attractions). This again reflects the fact that LGBT consumers' travel decisions are influenced by similar elements as the mainstream traveler. However, for LGBT travelers, 89% stated that the fact that a property was LGBT friendly was a very or a somewhat important attribute when choosing a hotel. This key factor is different from the mainstream traveler; for you as a hotel operator to grow your share of the market, you need to be able to position your property as one that is seen as LGBT welcoming.

LGBT consumers in general are cautious of where they spend their dollars, preferring to spend their dollars with companies that are supportive of, and committed to, the LGBT community at large. The same is true when it comes to where LGBT travelers are going to spend their dollars, both in terms of destinations as well as tourism products. As I mentioned in my last article, the support and commitment the market expects from a business is much more than just slapping a rainbow flag on the front window or in an advertisement; it's making a dedicated investment in the market.

There are numerous efforts a hotel property can engage in, both internally and externally, to demonstrate its commitment and to begin earning the trust of the traveler.

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