How can hospitality marketers best connect with the LGBT market?

ORILLIA & WINDSOR, ON—Next Year, from June 20—29, 2014 Toronto, Canada will host World Pride, a huge event expected to attract millions of people.

ORILLIA & WINDSOR, ON—Next Year, from June 20—29, 2014 Toronto, Canada will host World Pride, a huge event expected to attract millions of people.

But that’s just one reason for Canadian travel marketers to look carefully at the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) market, according to speakers at two recent hospitality conferences. Liz Devine of Rainbow High Travel and Ryan Mcelroy of Travel Agency Tribes and Globetrotting Tips spoke at the Online Revealed Conference on the Next Generation of LGBT Travel Engagement: Get Social, Start a Conversation, Build a Campaign.

And Darrell Schuurman, co-founder and executive director of Travel Gay Canada spoke on a similar topic, LGBT Travel: Becoming Market Ready, at the Resorts of Ontario conference in Orillia last month.

All of the speakers agree that Canada is in a unique position when it comes to attracting this market.  

“Canada has positioned itself as a leader of LGBT rights, human rights, standards and policies,” Schuurman said. “That’s how other countries, and especially the U.S., perceive us.”

Devine mentioned that Canada is the No. 1 destination abroad for visitors from the U.S., including LGBT visitors. Passports are not a problem for this group—78 per cent have passports compared to 56 per cent for the U.S. population in general. And LGBT travellers come from all over the world to get married here—in fact, over half the gay marriages performed in Canada are for couples who come from other countries.

“It’s legal to be visible, gay and to get married here,” she said. 

She added that while income levels among this group mirror those of the general population, they have more disposable income.

“They often don’t have the same kinds of constraints—children, community activities, financial obligations. They will spend more and will travel more frequently.”

Schuurman pointed out that the Canadian gay travel market is already a $7 billion business, and that gay travellers typically spend $1,131 per trip versus $597 for travellers in general.

Mcelroy added that you need to build brands that speak directly to this community. “It’s a lucrative market, but one that needs to be spoken to in a specific manner.” 

“Your voice has to be deliberate and authentic,” said Devine. For example, one company spent $50,000 sponsoring a stage at Pride—and nothing happened.

“There were no follow-up conversations—you don’t get liked back if you don’t talk back,” she noted. “You want to be speaking with [this market], not speaking to.”

That online dialogue can begin now with the intersection of the mobile technology revolution and the desire of people to search for communities. She spoke about a group called Meet Up, which she recently rejoined. Through this group, she met up with 20 professional lesbian women going for a walk in Toronto’s High Park. “We’re doing mutual fun things in an anonymous setting… That’s the revolution,” she said.

“Honest engagement is better. There are ways for brands to have communication and dialogue, but the conversation has to be two-way and real.”

Travel Gay Canada’s Schuurman noted that a location has to be inviting—travellers have to feel not only safe from harassment, but comfortable, with people who support and embrace them.

There also has to be a commitment demonstrated on a consistent, long- term basis.  “A few years ago, a national hotel chain put LGBT tourism into their strategy, but they didn’t see returns, and pulled out after one year.

“There is no [one] gay market,” said Schuurman. “There are lots of markets within the LGBT community—dining, families, etc. Focus on the segments that fit for you.”