Reaching the gay travel market used to be thought of as an exercise in niche marketing. It was usually defined by large brands that focused on providing luxury experiences for unmarried gay men (and eventually women) who had a lot of disposable income. But this market has changed dramatically in the last decade.
New generations have embraced not just the rights of gays and lesbians but the framework of thinking that underlies the expanding LGBTQ+ movement, a big umbrella of sexual and gender identities. This way of thinking is all about moving everyone past the promotion of diversity as a point of view or a list of checkboxes and towards genuine, real-world, actionable inclusivity.
1 in 3 LGBTQ+ travellers fear judgement
Seventy countries still criminalise homosexuality, and it’s not surprising that LGBTQ+ travellers are hesitant and fearful of visiting them. But a surprising number of LGBTQ+ travellers are afraid to be themselves whenever they travel - even in countries with progressive attitudes about sexuality and gender.
An eye-opening 1 in 3 travellers from the LGBTQ+ community fears judgement from hotel staff. This underscores the importance of how you and your staff meet and greet guests, but it also begs the question: how many other touch-points do LGBTQ+ guests worry about when they visit a property? And what can you do to create messaging and signals to help dispel such fears?
Surface signs: visibility and language
When they’re choosing where to stay, in addition to looking for explicit signals that your property is a safe space, these travellers also look for themselves in your marketing efforts. It can be hard for us to connect if we don’t see ourselves in your visuals. We love to see people who look like us: gay couples, gay families, queer families or gender-diverse people. And we question our welcome in places where we only see images of people who conform to heterosexual and traditional male, female and family stereotypes.
Speaking of stereotypes, one easy and effective way to reach us is by cutting out well-worn gendered phrases like “his and hers” and “bride and groom”. Examples of this language are abundant in travel marketing, and it excludes us immediately. By always recognising that your audience consists of diverse communities and distinct individuals, you can learn to speak authentically to LGBTQ+ travellers.
Under the surface: there’s no faking authenticity
For many years, putting up a rainbow flag was a meaningful gesture because it risked a potential backlash from other consumers. Today, it is much easier to paste a rainbow flag logo on your marketing materials and start welcoming guests. But be aware that education is a necessary step in the process of becoming inclusive and welcoming.
Queer people will be quick to recognise it as inauthentic if your efforts at attracting them are not paired with other hallmarks of inclusive hospitality. You wouldn't advertise to attract wheelchair travellers if you hadn't installed a ramp next to the stairs that lead to your property. Similarly, you shouldn’t strive to engage the LGBTQ+ market until you’ve trained yourself and your staff to feel comfortable engaging with and welcoming them.
Rethinking long-held assumptions
When you begin the process of rethinking the guest experience to include LGBTQ+ travellers, you may find that long-held assumptions no longer make sense. For instance, if you have single-occupancy restrooms in your hotel lobby that are labelled male and female, but they are designed for use by one person at a time, why not relabel them to read “toilet” or “washroom”?
Have you struggled with the idea of asking men who are checking in together if they want one bed or two? Even when we acknowledge that straight married couples don't all want to share a bed, this kind of interaction can be a difficult hurdle for untrained staff to overcome. By implementing consistent policies that remove assumptions and educating staff on how to feel confident asking these kinds of questions, you can make sure all of your guests have their preferences acknowledged and fulfilled.
Will you always get it right? Probably not. It’s important to acknowledge that making this shift is hard work, particularly when switching to gender-neutral language. Even those of us who teach about inclusivity make slip-ups occasionally. But when hotels get it right, we're elated that you can surprise and delight us with these small gestures of inclusivity because so few businesses do it well. And when you apologise and make the correction with ease, you will be appreciated for your effort.
LGBTQ+ travellers value fairness and inclusion, and you as a partner can provide it to them. Booking.com has joined forces with HospitableMe to offer a free Proud Hospitality training course as part of the Travel Proud Programme. It’s designed exclusively for partners and includes a take-home toolkit for staff training, with the goal of helping partners achieve Proud Certified status. This is an opportunity for you to fly the flag in support of LGBTQ+ inclusivity while gaining practical insights and expanding your marketing reach to make sure every guest feels comfortable to be themselves when staying at your property.
The Proud Hospitality course is currently available in three cities - Amsterdam, Manchester and Berlin - and will be rolled out to additional locations in the future. I urge all eligible partners to sign up to attend this friendly, interactive, and emotionally resonant online course that explores how ingrained notions of gender, sexual orientation and relationship status have shaped service paradigms - and how practical changes can make everyone feel more welcome.
When you put yourself in a position to understand your LGBTQ+ guests, you’ll see them as part of the continuum of hospitality, not as something that is set aside from your core values or service standards. Once you and your employees understand how to interact comfortably with LGBTQ+ guests, you’ll become more inclined to engage rather than retreat from interactions - and so will your guests!
- Niche marketing to gay travellers has been replaced by a desire to reach the expanding LGBTQ+ cohort of people who value fairness and inclusivity in hospitality
- Research finds 1 in 3 travellers from the LGBTQ+ community fear judgement from hotel staff when travelling
- LGBTQ+ travellers look for signs and signals that their visit will be safe, including visual representations and language choices
- Through a partnership with Booking.com, a free Proud Hospitality course is available for partners in Amsterdam, Berlin and Manchester, and will be rolled out to additional locations in the coming months