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Recommend chatted with three LGBTQ+ travel advisors and asked them to share their expertise on current travel trends and provide actionable tips for selling to this dynamic market.

“Information is Key” When Selling LGBTQ+ Travel

LGBTQ+
Carlos Melia, Luxury Travel Curators LLC

Carlos Melia founded the first openly gay inbound travel agency to Argentina, Chile and Uruguay back in 1990. Today, he lives in the US and owns Luxury Travel Curators LLC, part of the Virtuoso global network of luxury travel advisors. He is also among the founding members of the LGBTQ+ Travel Advisory Board for BELMOND Hotel, Trains and River Barges, part of LVMH. Of note: Although Melia’s agency remains an LGBTQ+ luxury travel agency, it also caters to mainstream clients.

With this in mind, we asked him about current trends he might be seeing among his clientele. “What we see is that our clients are venturing to new destinations, sometimes even bordering on destinations that are not considered LGBT friendly, per see, but they feel safe to travel with the information [we give them[ and some kind of reference brands, international hotel brands, or airline brands,” says Melia. Brands, he says, that will welcome the community anywhere in the world. He ads that suppliers are very important to the mix, as they can make the client feel protected and taken care of during their voyage. This is particularly important in places that are not traditionally so LGBTQ+-friendly, or the community isn’t as strong—think some Asian countries, Egypt, some Caribbean islands, some Northern European countries, etc.

When asked for tips for selling to the luxury LGBTQ+ traveler, he says without a qualm: “Information. Information is key. And suppliers again. Have suppliers that you know you can trust. They are reliable. They welcome the LGBT segment, even though they may not fully cater to it. [We] started out as an LGBT company, but over time, we’ve become mainstream. We do everything. But we feel very strongly about the LGBT segment for the luxury segment. So our suppliers know that we cater to this demographic. And we’re very clear that we need to know they’re okay to work with this segment.” He says the same applies to hotels, DMCs and every other company they use at each destination.

Plus: “Travel and experience [the destination] yourself. I travel with my partner, and we make sure that everything [is perfect] and we feel welcome. That the rooms and the hotels are prepared to receive this type of client, and so on and so forth. And it’s honestly the first question that any client asks us, have you been, have you done, have you stayed there?

Hot tip for someone looking to break into this lucrative market segment? “First of all, find your niche because the LGBT segment is very wide, and it can be anything. [L]uxury LGBT is one of those niches…For me, it’s a mistake when people try to approach the LGBT market as one when there are so many layers to be covered and different things to cater to or specialize in.”

One last thing: “I think the segment is becoming more open…I think the younger crowds are feeling more open to traveling freely, and they don’t need to travel as gay travelers anymore. [Those of us that are] 30 or 40 years plus, we still have that mentality that we need to find a place that is 100 percent gay friendly. I think the younger demographics are more open to exploring beyond that limitation.”

“Know Your Customer”

Vicki Winters.

Self-proclaimed NYC-based Jetsetter Vicki Winters began her “journey in travel,” as she puts it when she worked as an executive assistant for C-suite officers in the entertainment and publishing fields. Within a few years, she was traveling the world as a travel blogger—until she discovered the travel advisor angle and set out her own shingle as Bucket List Travelers. Fast forward and Winters is now part of Fora Travel, an agency with a dedicated LGBTQ+ travel page with travel guides and a list of advisors who specialize in this target market.

Winters told us the current travel trends include “a lot of LGBTQ+ couples travel together in groups of four to ten persons. They often feel safer in a pack in some destinations. I’m also seeing them book farther in advance because they know what they want, and they know it won’t be available for long. Examples of this are Transatlantic cruises or Panama Canal crossings on Virgin Voyages, as well as Antarctica and Galapagos sailings. Those cabins are limited, and they don’t want to miss out.”
When talking about destinations, she points out that it’s always about what makes people feel safe and welcomed. “I think Iceland is popular because it’s considered one of the friendliest countries in the world to LGBTQ+ travelers.”

And, surprisingly: “Many people don’t realize, but destination weddings and honeymoons are also popular in the LGBTQ+ community. One of my biggest sales was a group wedding cruise.”

Selling travel to this target market is, at its core, much like selling to any other. “No matter what you’re selling,” says Winters, “you have to know your customer. It’s that simple. You need to understand their needs and what they are looking for. Sometimes clients don’t know what they want until you present a great idea, too. I don’t believe you can or SHOULD try to fake anything these days. It is imperative to understand the community that you serve in an authentic way.”

She also emphasized the need to know which countries are welcoming to LGBTQ+ travelers. “I do not sell trips to destinations that don’t welcome all.” Winters also recommends attending Proud Experiences, a conference for LGBTQ+-friendly suppliers, hoteliers and destinations. “It’s a great place to learn about the best travel opportunities in the market.”

If you’re new to the market, Winters says “It helps to have friends in the LGBTQ+ community, and of course, already be an ally. One of my first clients was someone I met on a dance floor. And then my business grew from word of mouth.

“The other thing to remember is that you should never stop learning. Be aware of how much education it takes to know what destinations are right for the LGBTQ+ market.”

Diverse Choices for the LGBTQ+ Traveler

Michael Bray

Michael Bray began his journey as a travel advisor in October 2018, though for him, it turned out to be his second career. “I actually didn’t think travel agents existed anymore due to the internet and booking direct,” he says. “I love travel, and a lot of my peers always asked me to assist them in their travels, so I researched and found Avoya Travel.  And it was a natural fit to reach out and call my friends when I first became an agent..,these friends became my first clients.” Also part of Travel Leaders Network, he crafts customized experiences—including safaris—through his agency, Braycation Travel. Of note: Bray’s company donates five percent of all commissions to the Make-A-Wish Foundation of America

Bray shares that his clients are looking for very specific experiences this year. “Clients want more niche and varied ‘bucket list’ options (Antarctica, safaris, Galapagos, European Christmas market sailings) that they can experience with fellow LGBTQ+ travelers,” he shares.

“The gay mega-ship cruise charters are approaching 30 years old, and many LGBTQ+ travelers have either tried this or are not interested in a huge party cruise that only caters to gay men. They are looking for more varied options that are more inclusive to the LGBTQ+ spectrum.”

His best advice when selling to the LGBTQ+ traveler is to “get inside the client’s head to truly understand what this respective client is looking for…LGBTQ-friendly, LGBTQ immersion, or more privacy.”

” [There are] many diverse choices out there for the LGBTQ+ traveler in terms of countries and respective areas/cities that are frequented by other LGBTQ+ travelers…plus many countries and cities have very comprehensive gay guides easily available through Internet searches.”

Bray adds that it’s important to understand the respective current cultural acceptances where the client is looking to go, communicate accordingly, and experience the product and/or area first. “Partner with the client throughout the entire selling process,” he recommends. “Understand their needs providing options, booking the appropriate vendors and managing the trip components to completion until they return home.”

When asked for tips for new advisors wanting to target this market, Bray echoes his fellow LGBTQ+ advisors: “Experience the countries, cities, and products firsthand. Start with 1-2 places or products per year, and before you know it, you’ll have recommendations based on your experiences.”

“Get to know some of the top gay travel charter companies (Brand G Vacations, Vacaya, Atlantis Events, Zoom Vacations) and understand which vendors typically cater to the LGBTQ+ traveler (Celebrity and Virgin have daily ‘meet & greet’ happy hours).”