In today’s tourism market, destinations are increasingly competing on a global scale, leading industry players to seek new means of increasing their competitive advantage. Within this deluge, the LGBTQ2 community has been identified as an emerging consumer segment and key opportunity for growth.
According to the World Tourism Organization’s (UNWTO) Second Global Report on LGBT Tourism (2017), this group is estimated to represent up to seven per cent of the global population and is perceived to be more frequent and higher-spending travellers than the general population. And, the annual value of total spending on travel and tourism by LGBTQ2 individuals has exceeded US$218 billion, with an average annual growth rate of 2.2 per cent, according to 2018 data from LGBTQ2-marketing specialists Out Now.
Canada, as a destination, already has a competitive advantage thanks to a reputation for diversity, equity and safety. In fact, according to the 23rd Annual LGBTQ Tourism & Hospitality Survey by Community Marketing & Insights (CMI), Canada was the top international destination for U.S. LGBTQ2 travellers in 2017-18, with 14 per cent of male respondents and 12 per cent of female respondents having spent a night in a Canadian hotel or paid accommodation within the last year. Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver in particular were identified as top destination within Canada.
However, hotels and local destinations can do more to appeal to this demographic. John Tanzella, president and CEO, International LGBTQ+ Travel Association (IGLTA), notes that Canada could benefit from better showcasing destinations beyond these hotspots as welcoming and having appealing attractions, pointing to events such as film and wine festivals as key attractions that could act as added selling points.
And, Canada isn’t just resting on its laurels. In recognition of the potential this market segment represents, LGBTQ2 tourism was identified as a key priority for investment within Canada’s most recent federal tourism-growth strategy. As part of this strategy, the Canadian Experiences Fund will invest $58.5 million over two years to “enhancing the products and experiences Canada offers to tourists,” focusing on five “key product lines,” including LGBTQ2 tourism. This investment will support projects including the expansion of LGBTQ2 Diversity Training and Market Readiness programs, which are delivered by Tourism HR Canada (THRC) and CGLCC, Canada’s LGBT+ Chamber of Commerce.
In March 2019, 13 sessions of the LGBTQ2 diversity-training workshop (available in both English and French) were held across the country, with a curriculum designed to help tourism businesses establish themselves as inclusive — to not only attract a larger share of this market, but create a more diverse workplace that supports and benefits their staff.
Feedback on the program, which includes an online module and half-day in-person workshop, was overwhelmingly positive and indicated demand for the program to be offered in additional regions.
“It’s a really thorough program [designed] to help any company, any employee within the industry, have a better understanding of how to really work with and serve [LGBTQ2] customers,” says Darrell Schuurman, co-founder and CEO, CGLCC.
Supported by government funding, phase two of the program is in the works, which will incorporate expanding the training sessions, consultation sessions with industry and communities and doing audits of destinations. “We want to go beyond just offering the training and really build out a market-readiness program for destinations and businesses that are truly interested in building a sustainable strategy for the [LGBTQ2] guest,” Schuurman explains.
“Part of our challenge is around the ability for us to meet the request for this [program]. And that’s partly because our network of trainers or facilitators across the country is still relatively limited,” says Schuurman. “One of the things that we’re working on this year will be building out our network of approved trainers so we’ll be able to accommodate a lot more requests for training across the country. We want to make sure this is delivered nationally, in as many places as we can.”
ROLLING OUT THE WELCOME MAT
Within the hospitality and tourism industry, there is a common misconceptions about what it means to cater to LGBTQ2 individuals. The reality is that this market does not require special accommodation, they want assurance that they will be safe, accepted and respected.
As with any product or service, removing friction or pain points for the customer is key to a positive experience and a successful product. Research conducted by Virgin Holidays in 2016 found 32 per cent of LGBTQ2 travellers feel they are treated differently while on holiday because of their sexuality.
And, while the concern for physical safety has grown through the world, the LGBTQ2 community faces different concerns when it comes to ensuring their emotional and physical security while travelling.
Seemingly benign assumptions regarding guests’ sexuality and gender identity can cause unnecessary stress or discomfort for travellers. For example, a same-sex couple’s sleeping configurations coming into question can be a frustrating experience. This is an area where language is key: confirming rather than questioning such details can make a significant impact on the interaction.
However, the IGLTA’s Responsible Tourism Through the Lens of LGBTQ+ Travel notes this community is less interested in segregated travel products and tour groups than in the past.
CMI’s 23nd Annual LGBTQ Tourism & Hospitality Survey found the top travel priorities for LGBTQ2 travellers were: relaxation (54 per cent), local cuisine (49 per cent) and travelling like a local (49 per cent). Nature exploration, sightseeing and historic attractions ranked fourth through sixth on the list, with LGBTQ2 travel — focusing on experiencing the local LGBTQ2 community, events and nightlife — ranking seventh (37 per cent). However, it’s worth noting the LGBTQ2 community is far from homogeneous, with a larger portion of gay and bi men (45 per cent) and millennials (42 per cent) identifying LGBTQ2 attractions as a priority.
In order for hotels to be more appealing and welcoming to LGBTQ2 guests, Schuurman says the first step is “really making sure the house is in order” and looking at what’s being done internally to ensure an inclusive and diverse workplace. “That would be things like looking at policies [and] practices, what do they have that specifically addresses [LGBTQ2] issues — and language is a big piece of that. When you look at forms and documents…is the language that they’re using inclusive?”
Such training not only demonstrates commitment to the community, but helps create a positive and inviting environment for all staff. As Tanzella notes, it’s important for this training and culture of inclusion to permeate all levels of operations. “The sales person may be very interested in the [LGBTQ2] client,” he explains,” but, if the staff hasn’t gone through something in the training arena, then it could fail once the traveller arrives.”
It’s also important to travellers that hotels demonstrate their investment in the LGBTQ2 community. “If the hotel is a member of our organization, or they’re involved with the local [LGBTQ2] chamber, the national chamber or local pride events, that makes [potential guests] feel like ‘okay, this hotel has invested in the community, it’s not just wanting my pink dollars,’” Tanzella adds.
He also notes that being a member of or supporting LGBTQ2 organizations gives hotels and destinations increased visibility within this market. The IGLTA also regularly partners with member hotels and destinations to promote offerings to markets around the world and create unique packages. “And there’s no charge for our members to do that with us,” says Tanzella.
As Taleb Rifai, UNWTO secretary-general, stated in the Second Global Report on LGBT Tourism, “the positive impacts of [LGBTQ2] tourism reach far beyond mere economic benefits. Indeed, destinations welcoming [LGBTQ2] tourism convey a powerful image of tolerance and respect. Destinations advocating [LGBTQ2] rights consequently become significant global advocates of universal human rights.”