Abigail Healy asks the industry for their favourite travel experiences and top tips on selling to the LGBT community.
When it comes to holiday hotspots that welcome LGBT travellers with open arms, Emerald Waterways’ head of marketing and global brand curator UK David Winterton sings the praises of European destinations, including Budapest, Limassol and Berlin.
He says: “I am lucky to visit Budapest frequently, as it is the starting point of several of our river cruises. Each time I go back, I see the LGBT community growing. Highlights include a half-day LGBT history tour and walking along the Danube.
“For a short weekend away, nothing beats a quick hop over to LGBT playground Berlin. My highlights are Zsa Zsa Burger restaurant in the heart of the gay district and Mauerpark Sunday flea market.”
Carrier’s managing director Mark Duguid is a fan of Greece. He says: “We choose different islands each year. My favourites are in the Cyclades and include last year’s choice of Sifnos and Serifos. These quiet islands are generally quite conservative, but in recent years we have found more visibility of gay locals and have never had any issues.
“Mykonos is a special place and where our love of Greece originates. There is nowhere better for gay guys to enjoy a hassle-free beach break where they can be themselves.” And Travel Designers’ Nick Harding-McKay points out that the UK shouldn’t be overlooked, either.
“Romantic or party weekends to Manchester, London or Edinburgh are amazing and a hot-tub break with Hoseasons can be so much fun.”
Duguid likes visiting Asia when he’s looking to travel further afield.
“In winter, my old repping home of Thailand is a firm favourite. We prefer the quieter islands like Koh Yao Noi or Koh Phangan and normally twin with a week in Bangkok.” Liz Cairns, head of partnerships at Flight Centre, agrees.
“Thailand really resonates with my wife, Holly, and I because we feel so at ease as soon as we arrive. I feel comfortable being tactile in public here and, perhaps most importantly, we’ve never encountered issues on check-in with regards to reconfirming that we definitely want a double bed.”
Harding-McKay’s top destination is Key West, Florida, which he describes as “gay heaven”, closely followed by Sydney and Montreal.
“These destinations just love LGBT travellers and go out of the way to make you feel welcome. Montreal has a compact Gay Village and a lively club scene.”
While some destinations actively market themselves as “open” or welcoming to LGBT travellers, there are plenty of places where it’s not so clear-cut, yet agents would be wise not to make assumptions.
Lindsay Garvey-Jones, national retail manager at Holiday Extras, says she particularly enjoyed visiting Kerala in India – a country where homosexuality had been illegal for many years, but the law was revoked on September 6, 2018.
“We travelled as a family group of eight and found the staff at our hotel, Xandari Pearl, to be accepting of our relationship, even going out of their way to celebrate our anniversary,” she explains.
“That being said, discretion is understandably necessary in parts of the state when you’re out of the hotel complex. Many locals still fear coming out.”
Duguid also points out the Maldives may appear at first glance to be a challenging destination due to its legal position, but in reality the resort islands are welcoming.
He adds: “In my experience, when travelling to less accepting destinations, international hotel chains ensure your stay, in the hotel at least, will be trouble-free.
“I also find luxury brands, like Six Senses, will always provide a genuinely warm welcome and have a very diverse customer base.”
As well as high-end hotels, some cruise lines also go above and beyond for LGBT clients, as Cairns highlights.
“My favourite line is Celebrity Cruises. The staff are really welcoming and there is a good mix of other LGBT guests so we didn’t feel like we stood out as an LGBT couple.”
Yet people may have different requirements when it comes to whether or not their sexuality has a bearing on where they travel. Melissa Tilling, managing director at Funway Holidays, says: “My experience of reconciling my life with my gender, in my travels, has never been an issue.
“In the past year, I’ve added some new favourites – Arizona for the awe-inspiring scenery and scale, standing on Forrest Gump Point in Monument Valley and hanging horizontally off the red rocks of Sedona.
“However, I suspect my experience isn’t always the same across the transgender spectrum. Whether a transgender person ‘passes’ as the gender they identify with is hugely subjective, but significant when considering travel destinations. The consideration then is how openminded the destination might be.
“I always considered big, busy cities with a multi-cultural mix safest. The first place I chose to venture out dressed as a woman, as I was growing in confidence to transition, was Hong Kong.”
1.BE OPEN AND ASK QUESTIONS
Duguid says: “My advice is not to shy away from the issue. Misselling a destination could cause upset or worse, so you need to understand whether the customer is comfortable exercising some discretion, or whether they are looking for somewhere they can be open and relaxed. If you are unsure whether a customer is gay, simply ask, ‘Are you travelling as a couple or friends?’.”
2.INVEST TIME IN LEARNING
Garvey-Jones asserts that it shouldn’t fall on the LGBT person in a business to fulfil the needs of LGBT customers.
“Do your research, come along to LGBT events to upskill and educate selling teams, brush up on product knowledge, use LGBT travel websites to support knowledge on behaviour, culture and helpful advice on destinations. This will work wonders with your LGBT customers and they are more likely to recommend you to their friends and family, so it could be beneficial.”
3. WORK WITH SUPPLIERS TO CREATE A SEAMLESS EXPERIENCE
Duguid advises: “Always confirm bedding arrangements in advance with suppliers and hotels, as this is a common cause of frustration. For exceptional service, go one step further and ensure the robes and slippers aren’t for a mixed-sex couple. Consider whether two gay men on honeymoon will really appreciate flower petals on the bed or would another gesture be more appropriate? Don’t be afraid to work with the suppliers on the small details to ensure a seamless stay.”
4. REMEMBER CUSTOMERS MAY NOT KNOW ABOUT PRACTICALITIES
Harding-McKay highlights that there may be some issues customers are unaware of.
“There are certain points you have to put across in a subtle but non-judgemental way,” he says. “For example, some countries do not allow the importation of HIV medication.” He advises checking out the ‘Travelling with HIV’ section of the Terrence Higgins Trust website.
5. DON’T MAKE ASSUMPTIONS
Tilling says a key challenge around transgender people for travel agents is that they may have no idea whether their customer is transgender or not.
“Embracing the difference in others, whatever that may be, listening carefully and responding thoughtfully is the way forward."
She adds: “Over the phone, the situation is even more challenging. My goal with my voice was not to be called ‘Sir’ on the phone.
“Being gender neutral until you know the customer’s name is a simple way of avoiding labelling anyone without accidentally causing offence.”
Finally, holidaying as an LGBT traveller doesn’t necessarily mean you want a cliched LGBT experience, says Cairns.
Garvey-Jones adds: “Research says that many LGBT people just want to holiday mainstream and not to be segregated, so don’t always recommend or offer LGBT holidays, because for some of us, it’s the last thing we’d enjoy.”