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COVID 19 And Tapping Into The LGBTQ+ Traveller Market

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The LGBTQ+ travel market has been one of the fastest growing segments in the travel and tourism industry with pre-pandemic statistics predicting it to grow to 180 million travellers by 2030.

Recently reminding the industry of the potential of ‘pink money’ amidst the COVID-19 era is Africa Travel Week through their latest virtual masterclass, Why you need to cater to the LGBTQ+ traveller.

“In the build up to Equal Africa 2021 at the Cape Town International Convention Centre, we wanted to highlight the importance of this market which is also predicted to be among the first to rebound as travel restrictions ease,” explains Martin Hiller, Content & Creative Director: Travel, Tourism & Creative Industries.

“Engaging with these travellers right now is more valuable than ever, but they are also more savvy than before COVID-19 so it’s going to take a little more than adding a rainbow flag to your marketing campaigns to become an ally.” 

Through a diverse a panel of thought leaders and experienced travellers, the masterclass not only highlighted opportunities to tap into this important market but offered insight into what it’s really like to travel as a member of the LGBTQ+ community.

How travelling as a LGBTQ+ traveller is different from any other traveller

For the LGBTQ+ traveller, safety and research is paramount.

“A lot of issues come to mind,” says Teraj Allen, professional singer and Host of Gay Travel Today. “Issues are safety, discrimination and harassment. We need to do a lot more research [into places] where we could be celebrated or at least tolerated. In many countries being LGBTQ+ is illegal, so it’s very necessary for us to know where we are going.”

“Someone else might not even have to think can I wear this? Can I be myself?” adds Ravi Roth, vlogger and Founder of Ravi Around the World. “When I went to Istanbul, I did manage to meet up with and talk to someone who was gay, but we had to meet inside of a restaurant. It’s not illegal but it’s very frowned upon. You’re not going to get hate crime per se, but I didn’t feel super safe being in my skin. I am very much a live out loud person and when I travel it’s very important that I be myself so that I can help people [in our community] when they want to travel.”

As a lesbian couple, Roxanne Weijer and Maartje Hensen, Founders of Once Upon a Journey have a different first priority. Safety concerns around travelling as women often take precedence over concerns around their queer identity.

Tanya Churchmunch, President of MuchPR, a boutique travel and LGBTQ PR firm agrees, adding that when she travels, she also tends to focus on her safety before considering her queer identity. “My first thinking is, is it safe for a women to be safe out and about there? Is it ok for a woman to go to a restaurant by herself? I consider this before I think about my lesbian identity.”

Roxanne and Maartje agree. “In 2017, we went on a world trip. We thought if people think we’re friends or sisters, it’s ok. People see white women first. They have very stereotypical ideas of what homosexuality looks like and we don’t fit that.”

Personal experiences of LGBTQ+ travellers in Africa

Ravi tells how he attended Cape Town Pride, one of the smallest and most quaint Pride experiences he has ever been part of. But he adds that his trip to South Africa was full of hard lessons for himself. “I went to shoot a video and when I put it out there, I got so much negative feedback. Why didn’t you talk to any Black people? But the community was predominantly white people. Racism in America and South Africa is interconnected. It’s a big lesson, but I had an amazing time.”

“We went to Kenya last year for my partner’s birthday,” says Teraj. “Out of the gate, we thought we wouldn’t express ourselves; we would keep everything under the radar. It could be because of the hotels or curated environments we were in, but everyone seemed so welcome and even encouraging. We were fortunate in Nairobi to have someone recommended to us by a local. We were introduced to more than 25 gay guys. It was just phenomenal. We went to expat bars (there are no gay bars as such) and learnt how they’re fighting to make change and come together as a community.”

“Meeting with local people helps us to understand their experience better,” adds Roxanne. “When we visited Ethiopia, it was very interesting. We went offline for 2 weeks because people can report you. Even the taxi driver could be punished for driving a gay couple, and we were not sure if the laws are enforced. Lots of people come quite close up and want to touch our white skin. Sometimes we weren’t sure if it was just curiosity, or something else behind it.”

What tour operators, destinations & hotels can do to make LGBTQ+ travellers feel welcome

“The bare minimum is just respect,” says Teraj. “Something as simple as people respecting us as human beings.” He cited the example of hotels in the US where they should do more training in the hospitality sector on how to deal with someone from the LGBTQ+ community. “There shouldn’t be any questioning about why you are sharing a bed!”

Ravi suggest operators all think about more inclusive language. “Just because someone is male or female representing, doesn’t mean they identity as such. Don’t feel so bad or weird – it’s ok to ask someone about their pronouns. For example, Hilton [hotel group] asked me what my pronouns were when I arrived to check in. Don’t be afraid to ask the questions. Ask someone how they would like to be addressed – it’s a new level of respect.”

Visibility is important and it starts in marketing,” says Roxanne. “If I see a girl couple I identity with, I feel more comfortable booking with that company. Visibility goes a long way.” She adds that in LGBTQ+ marketing, often only white gay men are represented.

Ravi suggests tour operators and agents give full transparency to the traveller on where they’re going. “Ensure the travellers know the risks going into it. You don’t want to risk your life for travel.”

It’s important to know the tour operator has your back,” adds Maartje. “For example, in Russia it’s not illegal, but the promotion of gay lifestyle is. The tour operator can tell you want you can and can’t do and it will make us feel so much safer.”

“I’ve worked with tour operators who are honest and helpful and supportive of you,” says Tanya. “Working with people locally who are going to be your advocate is huge.”

 The importance of connecting with the local queer community

Very important say Maartje and Roxanne. “It’s even more important in destinations where it’s less normalised. The first thing we do is look around. Are there are any other same sex couples? Meeting with locals helps us navigate that.”

“I always put in huge effort to find gay community locally,” adds Teraj. “In South Korea, I went to Itaewon meeting with locals on the streets. It’s extremely important to find the community to have shared experiences. Our struggles and issues – there are so many common issues we face. It gives a certain level of gratefulness and gratitude. It’s very important to me.”

Ravi says he does as much research as he can before a trip, trying to reach out and meet up with local community members. “I love connecting with my community. If you know people in your local community, use them as your support for your queer visitors coming in,” says Ravi to travel agents and operators.

Tanya adds that it can often be a huge difference in how a LGBTQ+ traveller experiences a destination and how a local does. “It’s a sad reality that there can be a big difference between how queer visitors are going to experience a destination and how the local community is going to experience it. Most destinations will tell you it’s not a problem. But it’s up to us to support the local community.”

What can travel agents and operators do to attract and assist LGBTQ+ travellers?

“It’s really important to know they have our backs,” says Roxanne. “Be a point of trust for the traveller – that extra safety net would go a long way.”

“Talk to the local tour operator,” suggests Tanya “I have a lesbian couple coming – please assure me they’re going to be comfortable and safe? Do the work to make sure they [your clients] are going to be ok.”

There is so much evolution around community and language. Ravi says it’s so important for hotels and tour operators to learn more about this. Google is a great friend for everyone. Suggested greetings could be “Hello Ravi. Welcome. What are your pronouns?”

Where to market yourself to reach the LGBTQ+ traveller?

  • Start with IGLTA and learn about the industry.
  • Research bloggers, influencers, Lonely Planet and other sites to network, make connections and find partners on the ground.
  • Identify communities on Facebook and Instagram to market and connect there.
  • Attend Equal Africa 2021

For more information on EQUAL Africa and Africa Travel Week’s Meetings & Masterclasses visit: https://atwconnect.com/

By Jenna Berndt

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