Tanya ChurchmuchAdventure travel, budget travel, luxury travel, family travel, foodie travel, solo travel…. Whatever your interest, there’s generally a community out there for you. But there’s one travel niche that’s really come to the forefront in recent years: LGBT travel.

Public discussions about LGBT rights and recognition have exploded in the United States, especially with the June Supreme Court ruling that gave same-sex couples the ability to marry across the country. LGBT visibility has become not only mainstream, but also a bit of a bellwether in regards to niche marketing outreach. What’s a bit different about this niche though, is that it encompasses individuals who are into all kinds of travel. You can be a lesbian foodie or a queer hiker or a retired gay man who is traveling the world solo, or a questioning young person who is visiting a big city to experience Pride for the first time. We all travel for different reasons. So what makes the LGBT travel niche? For the LGB, it’s mainly the sexual orientation of the audience. If we’re being fully honest though, the “T” has been sorely underrepresented in the LGBT travel world (the Ft. Lauderdale CVB is an exception to this rule).

Since the niche in itself is vast and diverse, yet targeted, the main message used by destinations, hotels, airlines and other travel companies is generally, “you are welcome.” It’s an important message because it’s not always easy for LGBT travelers to be their authentic selves, which can be pretty stressful when you just want to have a fun holiday. Here’s a good explainer, and a good follow up, by Meg Ten Eyck from Dopes on the Road about why that is, and what kinds of questions queer travelers have to ask themselves. By marketing to the LGBT community, travel companies are telling us that we can be ourselves with them. It’s something most travelers take for granted, but is not always the case for those of us in the LGBT community.

That said, reaching out to the LGBT community is not only about being a socially responsible corporate entity. LGBT travelers are also a very lucrative market. Here’s just a few statistics from Community Marketing’s 19th annual LGBT Tourism Study (Dec. 2014)

  • The estimated annual economic impact of LGBT travelers is over US $100 billion per year in the U.S. alone.
  • 29% of LGBT survey participants are frequent leisure travelers, taking 5 or more leisure trips per year, with 10 or more leisure hotel room nights per year.
  • 14% of LGBT respondents are frequent business travelers, taking 5 or more business trips per year.
  • Hotel Selection Rankings: Location and value of price for quality of hotel are the two most motivating factors for hotel selection. Of note, LGBT-friendly reputation was more important than a hotel’s loyalty program.

When you consider that the majority of same-sex couples don’t have children (though more and more do!), and they can often travel during shoulder season when there are more rooms available, it’s a bit of dream demographic for the travel industry. Look at what Marriott is doing in the LGBT market.And American Airlines. And Houston, Texas. Yup, the Houston, Texas CVB even has its own LGBT microsite and social media handles. The International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association (IGLTA) is the longstanding global organization that supports all of these travel partners who are interested in working with the LGBT market (full disclosure – I’m the Immediate Past-Chair of IGLTA and also serve on the IGLTA Foundation Board. I think they’re both amazing organizations!)

While more and more travel companies are jumping into the LGBT market, there’s also been a great rise in the voices of LGBT travel in the online world. And what’s amazing about so many of these writers and influencers is that they really do address all of those travel interests that were mentioned at the top of this post. Some market themselves as LGBT blogs, others simply incorporate their queerness into the overall content of what they do. They’re diverse, the same way our community is. Here’s just a few for you to check out: Two Bad Tourists, Globetrotter Girls, Davey Wavey, Button and Bly, Travels of Adam, Dopes on the Road, Lez Backpack, Bounding Over Our Steps, Leave Your Daily Hell, and so many more. And their numbers keep growing each day, which is a good thing. Even though LGBT rights are evolving in many ways in many countries, there remains a definite need for the travel industry to understand what it means to be an LGBT traveler, and for LGBT travelers to find their community if they’re looking for it.

NOTE:  The IGLTA is a media partner of TBEX.

Author Bio:  Based in New York City, Tanya Churchmuch is the founder of MuchPR, a public relations firm specializing in tourism, lifestyle and LGBT markets. Prior to launching MuchPR, Tanya lived in Montreal, Canada and was Tourisme Montreal’s Assistant Director of International Media Relations and Leisure Markets, while also overseeing their LGBT outreach. She was also the founder of the (former) lesbian travel website www.girlports.com. In 2009 Tanya was elected to the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association (IGLTA) Board of Directors and served as Chair of the IGLTA Board from May 2010- May 2013, and currently serves as Immediate Past Chair. Tanya is also on the Board of the IGLTA Foundation. An expert in lesbian and LGBT travel, she has spoken on the subject at numerous travel industry conferences and written travel articles for many LGBT and mainstream publications. Prior to working in the travel world, Tanya was a television journalist and news anchor in Montreal, including 9 years at Global Television. She is also a former Board member of Reporters Without Borders International, based in Paris, and Past President of Reporters Without Borders Canada.