In 1983, the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association (IGLTA) began with just a handful of LGBT travel agents and hotel owners. Their goal then was to provide community members with information about friendly and affirming travel destinations and options. A testament to their work is the dramatic increase they’ve seen in LGBT-friendly travel across the globe. Today, they have partners and connections in more than 75 countries.
“The growth has really been tremendous,” says LoAnn Halden, IGLTA’s media relations director. “Certainly, there’s been more focus on LGBT travel in the last 10 years and in the last five years it has increased dramatically. We are finding many more LGBT-friendly destinations. We’ve been having conversations with more than 100 tourism boards, either at the country level or city level.”
Concerns about safe and friendly travel are particularly important for LGBT people. And, that’s as much true for international travel as it is domestically.
“For LGBT travelers, the most important thing is you want to be traveling in a way that makes you feel safe and welcome, whether choice of travel that might be,” says Halden.
Internationally, the U.S. State Department has even jumped in. A special LGBT-focused section of the State Department’s website — travel.state.gov/lgbt — provides travelers with up-to-date information on safety and laws pertaining to LGBT people across the globe. The site answers basic questions about passports, including specifics like name changes for newly-married same-sex couples. Additionally, the site includes travel alerts and warnings about countries where it may not be entirely safe for LGBT visitors.
Halden says IGLTA’s in-depth resources and information in their online directory is a safe bet for travelers making choices about future trips. There, travelers can choose from a wide array of travel agents or trip types from around the globe — each of them committed to upholding IGLTA’s values.
Explore history, nature and the beach at The Outer Banks any time of year
US Airways has direct flights to European LGBT destinations
“Anyone who joins IGLTA is agreeing to uphold our bylaws and that they will treat all people with respect,” Halden says.
Practicing respect and inclusion — even in leisurely travel — is an act of advocacy, in a sense. Halden says IGLTA and the LGBT tourism industry as a whole has helped to change culture.
“I think the LGBT tourism industry was really kind of a pioneer in terms of building bridges,” she says. “There is a big dialogue that happens when you are out and visible in the world and traveling the globe.”
The LGBT travel market has been strong, too. Halden describes it as “recession proof.” While there were more “staycations” during the recession, LGBT people still found ways to get out and explore the world. Marketers and travel experts have noticed.
“It definitely feels like we’ve see a corner turned in terms of member engagement and coming back to the table and wanting to be involved,” Halden says.
Even at home, local tourism boards have noticed. Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill and Charlotte each have LGBT-oriented “microsites” on their main visitors’ web portals. Just a few years ago, Chapel Hill’s tourism board hosted dozens of LGBT journalists from across the nation to help spread the word about the area’s LGBT-friendly atmosphere.
Community members, too, are reaching out and marketing their own cities. qnotes media partner VisitGayCharlotte.com and NC Pride’s NCGayTravel.com are just two examples of community-based travel and tourism marketing efforts. Both sites list a variety of LGBT and friendly community organizations, events, lodging, retail, nightlife, eateries and more.
Globally, IGLTA’s Halden says South America continues to be of interest to LGBT travelers.
“Buenos Aires and Rio have always been on the radar, but now we’re seeing travelers go behind the obvious destinations in a country and travel to other smaller, lesser-known parts of that country,” she says. “When you see, both in the U.S. and globally, rights change or marriage pass, you always see more of an interest in those destinations. That’s all part of the messaging that this space is welcoming.” : :
Top U.S. Travel Destinations
Top International Travel Destinations
4 leisure/vacation trips; 9 hotel nights
4 leisure/vacation trips; 7 hotel nights
On the sea…
Carnival Cruise Lines – 23%
Royal Caribbean – 19%
Holland America – 15%
Norwegian – 14%
Celebrity – 13%
Princess – 11%
Top LGBT cruise companies
For men: Atlantis – 11%
For women: Olivia – 20%
In the bed…
LGBT travelers say these are their favorite hotels:
What LGBT travelers look for in a hotel:
Good value – 82%
Free internet/Wi-Fi – 73%
Free breakfast – 32%
Pool – 20%
Gym/fitness center – 18%
In-hotel restaurant – 16%
Good value – 85%
Free internet/Wi-Fi – 74%
Free breakfast – 40%
Pool – 21%
Gym/fitness center – 15%
In-hotel restaurant – 19%
In the community…
LGBT travelers are booking overnight stays out of town for a variety of community destination events:
LGBT Pride event – 19%
Bear community event – 7%
LGBT cultural, arts or film event – 6%
LGBT theme event (e.g. “Gay Days” in Orlando) – 6%
LGBT Pride event – 16%
Lesbian community event – 7%
Women’s event (not lesbian-specific) – 7%
LGBT cultural, arts or film event – 6%
Source: 2013 LGBT Travel Survey, Community Marketing, Inc.