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LGBTQ Is a Growing Market for Travel Industry

Resorts, cruises, new destinations that are gay-friendly

gay couple walking on the beach

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En español | LGBTQ travelers and their families are a growing target market for the travel industry, with resorts, cruise lines and many new destinations now offering gay-friendly options.

The travel industry is “capitalizing on new interests and opportunities for people to be themselves all over the place and not just in limited destinations,” says Ed Salvato, an LGBTQ travel expert.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, many destinations and hotel chains began conducting sensitivity trainings to better serve diverse LGBTQ travelers, beyond what is depicted in stereotypical branding.

“I think companies are starting to think about their duty of care, like, ‘Maybe we better think about specific concerns, fears and needs of these queer guests,’” Salvato says.

Among the friendly spots, he says, are some locations in the Caribbean; Miami and Fort Lauderdale, in Florida; Stockholm; Sydney; Los Angeles; Amsterdam; New York City; and Hawaii.

Puerto Rico, for example, has made LGBTQ inclusivity a core pillar of its Discover Puerto Rico marketing campaign, Salvato says.

Its website illustrates gay couples, highlights locally owned LGBTQ businesses, promotes gay events and conducts LGBTQ sensitivity training for staff at tourist destinations.

Now that COVID-19 restrictions are loosening, many destinations are focused on simply attracting travelers back, Salvato says. Eventually they will return to sensitivity trainings and marketing toward specific segments of the LGBTQ community that they had started before the pandemic.

For families, Salvato recommends R Family Vacations, a travel agency that directs LGBT families to friendly options. Specific locations include:

  • Hawaii, where “the aloha spirit is so friendly and welcoming that you can go with your kids.”
  • Four Seasons Orlando — near Disney World, which promotes itself to the LGBTQ family market as a friendly resort.
  • Provincetown, Massachusetts, a traditional destination for gay travelers, where a family week is now among the summer events offered (July 24 to 31 this year).

“Queer families are just as likely to go where every other family is going. It’s just making sure that queerness will not be an object of ridicule or unnecessary focus,” Salvato says.

10 Best U.S. Destinations for LGBTQ Families 2021

  1. Long Beach, California
  2. Fort Lauderdale, Florida
  3. Seattle
  4. Denver
  5. Oahu, Hawaii
  6. San Diego
  7. New York City
  8. Washington, D.C.
  9. Chattanooga, Tennessee
  10. Chicago

Source: Family Vacationist

Booking a trip

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, many travelers have reevaluated the importance of utilizing a travel adviser because many who had scheduled trips before the global lockdown ended up losing their money due to cancellations.

“If you went to a travel agent, that person was going to bat for you,” Salvato says. “If you have any complexity in your travels, you should think about a travel adviser. And you don’t pay for the travel adviser — they typically make their money from the supplier.”

Salvato says LGBTQ people like specific recommendations from an agent they can trust because they want to know that their concerns are understood. He recommends:

  • Kelli Carpenter: A travel adviser who has an LGBTQ family of her own and has been a pioneer in LGBTQ travel
  • Out Adventures: Organizes small-group LGBTQ outdoor adventures, cruises and cultural tours
  • Vacaya: A large-scale LGBTQ travel company that offers adult-only trips that take over entire cruise ships and resorts
  • FabStayz: A platform that provides inclusive host allies to LGBTQ travelers

Cruises

As cruises get set to sail again, LGBTQ travelers may find other increased options from cruise lines.

Atlantis Events says it is one of the world’s largest producers of gay and lesbian cruises and resort vacations. The company bought RSVP, another LGBTQ cruise company, which tends to market to adults age 50-plus, Salvato says.

Major cruise lines also can be an option for LGBTQ travelers.

“Every major cruise line — as well as smaller lines — not only welcome LGBTQ guests, but they also have strict antidiscrimination policies in place on board to protect guests,” says Colleen McDaniel, editor in chief of the online site Cruise Critic. “For the most part, lines across the board are welcoming to LGBTQ travelers, so what’s best for each traveler will be heavily dependent on the individual’s needs and expectations of the traveler.”

McDaniel recommends that travelers look for particular onboard meetups, as well as fellow travelers or an agent to learn what the onboard experience and offerings will be. A number of charter cruises cater specifically to gay and lesbian travelers. For example, Atlantis Events and Olivia offer a wide range of sailings.

But because some ports on a trip’s itinerary may not reflect the experience on the ship, guests should familiarize themselves with how welcoming each destination may be.


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Resorts

“There are also dedicated gay hotels and resorts, such as the Island House in Key West [Florida] and the gay-owned and -operated Brass Key Guesthouse in Provincetown,” says Sarah Schlichter, a senior editor at SmarterTravel. The online travel magazine put together a list of five gay-friendly, all-inclusive resorts that can serve as a suitable option outside of the long-term traditional locations, such as Provincetown and Key West.

Additionally, Misterb&b, like Airbnb, provides short-term rentals of entire homes, rooms or apartments — but confirms that the host or owner is LGBTQ. The company also offers a curated database of gay and gay-friendly hotels.

“It connects the global community of gay hosts and guests, creates income for the LGBTQ community and helps global gay travelers discover the best gay events,” says Misterb&b cofounder and CEO Matt Jost.

It has 100,000 hosts in the U.S. and 400,000 globally, Jost says.

“We are seeing more and more people sign up because they want to be able to connect with the global gay community, and also because they want to be able to live a richer, better life.”

Camping

LGBTQ outdoor excursions serve as another vacation option for individuals hoping to connect with nature. The Venture Out Project offers different camping options to LGBTQ adults, teens and families.

“We have the whole campground to ourselves, and we go hiking, swimming. We have campfires and facilitated discussions for the adults at night, around parenting and queerness,” says Travis Clough, director of operations.

The project’s primary offerings are for adults. Hikes are usually around 5 miles and move at a slow pace, and special accommodations can be made for all experience levels.

“The idea behind the classic backpacking is really to get people out there to show them you can access the outdoors. We actually have all the gear. You can show up with your gym shorts on and your hiking boots, and we’ll get you out the door,” Clough says.

“It is vital and important for families and communities to come together in such an intimate space. I feel like wilderness and nature provide that space through camping. Nobody is on their phones. We are all sitting there actually talking to one another,” he says.

Aaron Kassraie writes about issues important to military veterans and their families for AARP. He also serves as a general assignment reporter. Kassraie previously covered U.S. foreign policy as a correspondent for the Kuwait News Agency’s Washington bureau and worked in news gathering for USA Today and Al Jazeera English.

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