I am the first to admit, if you don’t get women and don’t know where to find us it might seem like we are playing hard to get – especially queer and trans women – but we are traveling in increasing numbers.
Women are nearly 50 percent of the population globally, so we are everywhere and we are roaming – especially on solo adventures and girlfriend getaways – as we continue to make bank, grow our net value, and start to enjoy our financial success.
However, women, in particular queer women, seem to be an elusive demographic to understand and to reach for travel professionals.
Lesbians, like any woman or community, flock to where they are wanted. So, unless queer women see themselves reflected in the vacation imagery destinations, hotels, tours, and any business connected to travel and hospitality and are made to feel comfortable, they are missing out.
Studies show that women make 80 percent of all travel decisions with some estimates showing women spend around $125 billion on travel. Nearly a quarter of American women have taken off for a weekend with the girls and the number is rising. The girlfriend getaway market alone represents $200 million annually. The numbers jump even higher for women traveling solo. An estimated 67 percent of women travel alone at least 75 percent of women consider themselves as solo travelers, according to a survey by HostelBookers.
Vacations are high on lesbians’ list of things to do, according to Community Marketing and Insights, which produces an annual report on LGBT travel.
Not only that, women are loyal. Once they are pleased, they return again and again.
Coming Out From Under The Shadow Of The Boys
So, why aren’t destinations, airlines, hotels, and other hospitality and travel industry leaders openly courting women – in particular lesbian, bisexual, and trans women – travelers? How can they attract us?
“What happens typically is that a destination enters the market carrying an LGBT umbrella and it takes some time and additional education before they start diversifying their outreach into targeting women,” says LoAnn Halden, communications director of the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association, who wasn’t speaking for the organization, but from her personal experiences.
Tanya Churchmuch, president of MuchPR, which specializes in LGBT travel, agrees adding that, “Very few destinations actually advertise to LBT women in lesbian publications, you can basically count them on one hand.”
When the mainstream travel industry caught onto the LGBT travel market, or the gay male travel market, “it was viewed initially as a one size fits all market,” says LoAnn.
“[However], with time, greater visibility and understanding, the destinations have learned that we are as diverse as our straight counterparts and now you’re seeing more marketing to lesbians or to transgender travelers or to LGBT families,” she continues.
“Destinations are becoming more and more sensitized to the fact that they need to include imagery and a least a little bit of content for women when they’re reaching out to the LGBT community.”
She’s one of the LGBT travel experts that have been “championing the importance of marketing to lesbians in travel,” says Tanya.
“There are a few of us who’ve been hammering home this message to destinations and marketers for the past several years,” she continues, adding that she like others advise advertising and marketing people to “use real queer women in their marketing imagery.”
“It’s important for lesbian travelers to have their voice in the LGBT world,” says Tanya, who encourages other queer women travelers to raise their voice, tweet and post on Facebook at destinations, airlines and hotels that they want to see themselves reflected in their marketing.
In the same breath, she encourages women to spread the word about “wonderful, welcoming places that you’ve visited.”
It’s starting to catch on. Destinations are starting to include queer women in their marketing, says Tanya.
“Buenos Aires has long been known as a fantastic destination for gay men, but there’s also been a real push to include lesbians in the conversation there as well,” Tanya offers up an example.
However, “it’s hard to know if their message goes further than that for lesbian travelers until you actually do some research,” she adds.
What Women Want
LoAnn and Tanya list off some of the destinations that are getting what queer women travelers want: to be reflected in their marketing, simply reached out to, and be understood. Some destinations that are getting it in the U.S. include: Baltimore, Maryland; Fort Lauderdale (particularly for trans women travelers with the Southern Comfort moving its popular gathering to the Florida city) and Key West, Florida; Las Vegas, Nevada; Provincetown, Massachusetts; and Richmond, Virginia. In Europe and around the world: Iceland, Spain, Stockholm, Sweden; and Vienna, Austria; and other parts of the world Buenos Aires, Argentina; Cape Town, South Africa (where IGLTA is hosting its 34th annual convention in 2016); Montreal, Canada; and Japan are also getting it and reaching out to queer women travelers.
These are the destinations “who’ve most consistently reached out to the lesbian community,” says Tanya.
“A few markets have gotten the message that lesbians and queer women are traveling and they have money, too – it’s not just all about the boys,” says LoAnn.
“We’ve seen Las Vegas do some great outreach to queer women. Stockholm is also wonderful at lesbian marketing,” says LoAnn. “I have to give special kudos to Fort Lauderdale for its big push in outreach to the transgender market [in 2015].”
“Baltimore has been great in including queer women of color in their LGBT guide,” adds Tanya, pointing out that Richmond includes several women talking about what they love about Richmond in its video series.
Got Our Eyes On You
Beyond the U.S., LoAnn and Tanya, both gallivanting girls who aren’t afraid to travel off the grid, are discovering nearly virgin destinations that could be the next hot lesbian vacation spot.
LoAnn is newly enamored with Africa, in spite of being well aware of Africa’s challenge for women and for LGBT people.
“Africa, as a continent, is still very challenging for LGBT people,” says LoAnn who traveled from South Africa to Botswana and the sand dunes of Namibia in 2015. “Those countries have some truly extraordinary travel options that can be experienced safely.”
Tanya has her eyes on Iceland for her next adventure.
“Reykjavik has been getting tons of lesbian travelers thanks to the efforts of the lesbian-owned tour operator Pink Iceland. It’s definitely top of my list for an upcoming holiday!”
“I’m a lifelong traveler, so going anywhere new is pretty exciting for me, even if it’s just a town I’ve never visited a couple of hours away,” says Tanya. “To be honest, there are very few destinations in the world that have a strong, visible, easily accessible lesbian community for travelers to discover.”
That’s not the case for gay men who have built up bay resort destinations around the world and today have many bars and restaurants catering to them.
“Women often have to look beyond the obvious to find the community, and oftentimes, there won’t be anything queer at all about the trip, except for the fact that we are queer travelers,” continues Tanya.
“The important thing is to feel comfortable and welcome for who we are when we visit, and to know that some of these off-the-radar destinations are making the effort to speak to us makes me interested in them,” she adds.
That’s why she wouldn’t bat an eyelash about returning to Spain. Her first visit astonished her by how open and friendly Spaniards are toward LGBT people. She’s returned over and over again every chance she’s had since then, she says.
“I was astounded at how queer-friendly the entire country was. From the big cities to the small towns, nobody batted an eye when my wife and I walked hand-in-hand,” says Tanya. “So, I’ve returned to Spain since that first trip and often tell lesbian travelers it’s a fantastic destination, simply for that. Of course, the food, wine, architecture and history don’t hurt either, but it’s an amazing package.”
Spain has also capitalized on its lesbian-friendly image hosting several big all-girl parties within recent years and is quickly becoming the next hot lesbian destination.
“These destinations should be commended because they are not only marketing to our community, but they are also supporting our lesbian media, which is hugely important,” says Tanya.
This is the third article in a series of three articles about new opportunities in the LGBTQ travel market. Click here to read “Queer Travel Opportunities Rise with LGBTQ Rights” and “LGBTQ Travel Gets Personalized.”