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What are the opportunities for LGBT travel from Europe?

Takes about 13 minutes to read

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) travel is one of the fastest growing tourism sectors. Europe is a main source market, with especially good opportunities in Germany, France and the United Kingdom. Smaller countries in northern and western Europe are also promising. LGBT travellers generally have high spending power and travel relatively often. To tap into this market, authentic LGBT-friendliness is key. Beach and cultural holidays are popular, while LGBT family travel is on the rise.


1 . Product description

Following the definition of the World Tourism Organisation, LGBT travel involves lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. There are an estimated 23 million openly (“out”) LGBT people in Europe, making LGBT travellers a considerable potential source market. Now that the LGBT community is becoming increasingly visible and recognised around the world, so is the value of the LGBT travel market. In fact, LGBT travel is one of the fastest-growing markets in the industry.

The European LGBT travel market is diverse. You can design tourism products specifically for LGBT travellers, like group tours or wedding ceremonies. However this is not always necessary, or even preferable. After all, LGBT people do not only participate in LGBT-exclusive activities in their daily lives either. Most importantly, to attract LGBT travellers you have to be welcoming and respectful.

Traveller profile

LGBT travellers generally have relatively high spending power. Although demographics are changing, LGBT couples often have a dual and above average income but no children. This allows them to travel more often, travel off-season and spend more on travel.

For example, British gay men travel twice as often as heterosexual men. In addition, only 5% of European LGBT travellers are restricted by school holidays. Popular LGBT destination Brazil reports that LGBT travellers spend 30% more than other travellers. This makes LGBT travellers a particularly interesting source market.

Just like heterosexual travellers, LGBT travellers have diverse travel preferences. This makes them an interesting source market across the industry. Beach holidays are a traditionally popular segment. Although this market mainly consists of mass tourism, specialising in LGBT travel can give you a competitive advantage. Interestingly, holidays involving culture, history and heritage are just as popular as beach holidays. An impressive 82% of LGBT travellers are interested in a cultural holiday.

Tips:

  • Offer LGBT travel products that suit budgets ranging from basic to luxury.
  • As this niche market is not limited to high season, also offer special packages in low season.
  • Include LGBT travellers in your strategy, regardless of the tourism segment you supply to.
  • Do not forget that the LGBT segment is broader than just gay men.

LGBT-friendliness

Although the LGBT community is increasingly accepted, unfortunately this is not always a given. For example, 37% of British LGBT travellers have experienced some form of discrimination whilst on holiday. Some 6% actually experienced a threat of physical violence due to their sexuality. Unsurprisingly, most LGBT travellers avoid destinations with an unwelcoming attitude.

Truly LGBT-friendly suppliers and destinations are attractive for both LGBT travellers and their friends and families. For example, 86% of LGBT travellers prefer to book genuinely LGBT-welcoming hotels. They are loyal customers if you treat them well.

Tips:

  • Do not assume that all couples are male/female. Use gender-neutral language whenever possible.
  • Provide a list of LGBT-friendly establishments, festivals and activities in your area.
  • Clearly promote your LGBT-friendly values. Put a small rainbow on your website and at your front desk. LGBT people will immediately recognise this international LGBT symbol.

Authenticity

In LGBT travel, authenticity means that LGBT-friendliness is not just a marketing term. It should be reflected in your products, staff and policy. For example, providing spa arrangements or honeymoon packages for LGBT couples is not enough if your staff make LGBT guests feel unwelcome. Educating your staff is key for any tourism company, as 72% of LGBT customers say staff well-trained on LGBT issues influences what they buy.

Marketing campaigns should also be authentic. You should use actual LGBT people and show real life and events in your destination. In addition, your efforts should be consistent rather than incidental. LGBT travellers are likely to see through a marketing ploy or so-called “pinkwashing”, where holidays are presented as more LGBT-friendly than they really are.

Working with the local LGBT community is key. They can help you understand their needs and preferences, as well as those of LGBT travellers. In turn, you can help address local LGBT challenges and invest some of your revenue. A tourism company with LGBT-friendly human resources and corporate social responsibility (CSR) policies appeals to LGBT travellers. Similarly, a destination that is a good place for the LGBT community to live is generally also a good place for them to visit.

Tips:

  • Educate your members of staff to ensure they understand, respect and value all guests equally. You can learn to train your staff, for example by enrolling in a Learn.LGBT programme. Local tourism and/or LGBT organisations may be also able to provide you with guidelines. For example, if you are in Brazil you can use the Ministry of Tourism’s Tips on how to cater to LGBT tourists.
  • Cooperate with local LGBT organisations to improve your performance for both your guests and the local LGBT community. Ask how you can help them with local challenges and invest in local projects.
  • Develop authentic, honest and consistent LGBT marketing campaigns. Again, working with the local LGBT community can be valuable.

Health and safety measures

General health and safety are important to European travellers. They often inquire about the safety of their destination. Especially safe driving can be a concern. They want to know about drivers and testing of equipment. Poor cleanliness of rooms and a lack of smoke detectors are an annoyance at the destination. This might result in bad reviews after their holiday.

Tip:

  • Pay attention to health and safety measures. Make sure you regularly check vehicles and equipment, place smoke detectors and fire extinguishers, have a first aid kit available and invest in good drivers.

Political stability and anti-LGBT law

Safety is important to European travellers, especially because some developing countries are politically unstable. Most commercial tour operators do not offer holidays to countries that their Ministry of Foreign Affairs has declared unsafe. This has led to a drop in tourism arrivals to for example Mali, Egypt and Kenya.

An additional concern for LGBT travellers is anti-gay legislation. An overwhelming 80% of British LGBT travellers think the travel industry does not do enough to inform them about local laws prior to departure. Currently around 70 countries have laws criminalising homosexuality. Although some take a stand and visit anyway, most LGBT travellers prefer to boycott these countries.

Tips:

  • Keep customers and potential customers updated on changes in the safety situation in your area. For example through your website and through your staff.
  • Share safety experiences from customers on your website. Let them write about how safe they felt, because people value the experience of other travellers.
  • If your region is “unsafe”, commercial tour operators will most probably not go there. In this case, focus on volunteer organisations and individual travellers. Check your country’s current safety status at the website of your target country’s Ministries of Foreign Affairs like the Netherlands, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

2 . Which European markets offer opportunities for LGBT travel?

Especially western Europe is a key source market

The LGBT community is commonly estimated to be roughly 10% of the global population. However, not all of these people are openly LGBT. There are an estimated 23 million openly (“out”) LGBT people in Europe, making up 2.6% of the total European population. Due to social, cultural and religious factors, the share of openly LGBT people is higher in western Europe (5%) than in Central Europe (1%) and Eastern Europe (0.3%). With increasing acceptance, demand for LGBT travel is set to grow.

LGBT tourism expenditure is highest in France, Germany and the United Kingdom

The global LGBT travel market is estimated at around €178 billion, being one of the fastest-growing markets in the industry. Europe is the main market, together with the United States of America. Annual expenditure on tourism by LGBT Europeans is estimated to be between €53 and €57 billion, mainly from western Europeans. This makes sense, considering the number of openly LGBT people, while the average income is also highest there.

LGBT tourism expenditure is highest in Germany, France and the United Kingdom. In smaller promising markets like the Netherlands, expenditure is also considerable (€2.4 billion).

Tips:

  • Start by focusing on Germany, France and/or the United Kingdom.
  • Also consider smaller northern and western European markets.

Most visited destinations

LGBT travellers are fond of tropical destinations and/or cultural destinations. Popular destinations among LGBT travellers include (but are by no means limited to) Brazil, the Caribbean Islands, Mexico and Thailand.

Other promising LGBT travel destinations include Bali (Indonesia), Buenos Aires (Argentina), Cape Town (South Africa) and Tel Aviv (Israel). These destinations are becoming known as some of the most LGBT-friendly in their regions. For example, South Africa is the first African country to legalise gay marriage. Developments like this greatly boost a destination’s LGBT-friendly image and open up a new market for LGBT destination weddings.

The LGBT market pays close attention to marketing directed at them. Destinations can benefit greatly from consistent LGBT-targeted destination marketing initiatives. A good strategy is to include an LGBT-specific microsite in your destination portal.

Tips:

  • Compare your destination and product to popular LGBT tourism destinations and learn from them.
  • Team up with local tourism stakeholders like your tourism board, to develop an LGBT microsite for your destination. See, for example, VisitScotland’s LGBT microsite.

For more information, see our study about European demand for tourism in developing countries.

3 . Which trends offer opportunities on the European market for LGBT travel?

LGBT family travel is on the rise

Although traditionally LGBT travel mainly focused on travellers with no children, a key trend for the coming years is LGBT family travel. As the options for LGBT parents to have children expand, the popularity of LGBT family travel is set to increase. For these travelling LGBT parents, family-friendliness as well as LGBT-friendliness are important factors in their choice of holiday.

Tips:

  • Offer family-friendly accommodation like adjoining rooms, a children’s programme, a playground and a pool. Make sure this is also available for LGBT parents.
  • Package your product with family-friendly, memorable experiences. Include fun, educational, unique and safe activities.
  • Offer special discounts and all-inclusive prices for families. This appeals to more budget conscious families as well.
  • For more information on family travel, see our study about explorative tourism for families with children.

European tour operators are launching LGBT-friendly initiatives

With the expansion of the LGBT travel market, major European tour operators are also recognising the opportunities. Many of them are now choosing to use their influence to improve the LGBT-friendliness across the global tourism industry. A good example is Virgin Holidays’ Lose the Labels campaign in cooperation with Stonewall. Their plan ranges from empowering their staff in the United Kingdom to encouraging partners in conservative regions to adopt LGBT-friendly policies.

Tip:

  • Keep track of initiatives among major tour operators in your European target market. Although they can be difficult to work with for you, you can approach them about the options in the LGBT travel market.

The influence of online reviews and social media is growing

European travellers increasingly research and plan their trip online. To gather information and share experiences they use review sites, social media, travel forums and blogs. Online reviews and feedback from fellow travellers have become important sources of information. This type of user-generated content (UGC) is key, as 83% of consumers trust earned media above all other forms of advertising.

Social media can be an especially powerful tool to reach LGBT travellers. It allows the LGBT community to share their travel experiences. They can recommend you to their peers and confirm your LGBT-friendliness. This is highly valuable content, given the importance of image in this market. In addition, social media campaigns can specifically target LGBT travellers based on their profiles, interests and likes.

Tips:

Peer-to-peer travel is expanding

The popularity of peer-to-peer travel is increasing among European travellers, including LGBT travellers. For example, 28% of Italian LGBT travellers use short-rental platforms like AirBnB.

Where peer-to-peer platforms used to focus on accommodation, they are now turning their attention to tours and activities. The experiences they offer are led by locals, giving them a unique and authentic feel. Locals can invite travellers into their home or business, or show them their community’s hidden gems. They can also teach workshops on traditional activities like cooking or dancing.

Tips:

  • Study the popular peer-to-peer experiences in your area and at competing destinations. Use this information to expand your product offering. Popular platforms include Airbnb Experiences, EatWith and Withlocals.
  • Collaborate with local providers of peer-to-peer experiences. You can include their existing experiences in your offer, or develop new peer-to-peer style products together.

For more information, see our study about European tourism market trends.

4 . What requirements should your LGBT travel products comply with to be allowed on the European market?

For general tourism requirements, see our study on what requirements your services should comply with to attract European tourists.

5 . What competition do you face on the European market for LGBT travel?

Competition in the LGBT travel market does not differ from the tourism market in general. For more information, see our study on what competition you face on the European outbound tourism market.

6 . Which channels can you use to put your LGBT travel products on the European market?

Focus on smaller specialised tour operators

European tour operators specialised in LGBT travel or your destination offer the best opportunities. You can identify them via trade associations, events and databases.

For example:

  • ECTAA – national associations of travel agents and tour operators per European country
  • GETA – Gay European Tourism Association
  • IGLTA – International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association
  • ITB Berlin – travel trade show with an LGBT dedicated pavilion exhibition area
  • TTG LGBT Conference – LGBT travel trade event, July, London
  • World Travel Market – annual tourism trade event, November, London

Generating direct sales

European travellers increasingly book their holidays directly with service providers at the destination. To increase your chances of direct sales, you can promote your product on relevant tourism websites/portals.

Such tourism websites/portals include, for instance:

For a general overview of the trade structure for tourism, see our study on the channels and segments of the European tourism market.

7 . What are the end-market prices for LGBT travel products?

Travellers have many destinations and types of holiday to choose from. This makes tourism a relatively price-sensitive and competitive industry. The price of a long-haul trip consists of three dimensions:

  1. The exchange rate between the currencies of the country of origin and the destination country.
  2. The costs of transport to and from the destination country.
  3. The price of goods and services the traveller consumes in the destination country.

European tour operators are not open about the purchasing prices of their tourism products. According to industry experts, their margins vary between 10% and 25%. Prices of holiday packages vary widely as they depend on a lot of factors, such as:

  • availability
  • destination
  • modes of transport
  • period of travel
  • number of travellers
  • length of stay
  • type of accommodation
  • included activities.

Tips:

  • Check which countries have cheap flights (preferably direct ones) to your destination, for instance at Skyscanner. This gives you a competitive advantage in those countries.
  • You can compare prices for LGBT travel products online, for example at Out of Office.
  • Tourism Boost has some useful on-line tools for pricing tours and accommodation. These can help you determine the break-even point and ideal retail price of your tourism product.

Please review our market information disclaimer.

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