Three new LGBT+ travel specialists talk to Abra Dunsby about surviving the pandemic and offer tips for selling LGBT+ friendly holidays
“It’s been an interesting ride launching ChilliMix in the pandemic, but it has allowed us to focus on getting contracts, product and amazing partnerships in place, ready for when the world booms again.
“We soft-launched to members of Protected Trust Services recently to make sure our agent platforms work before the big launch. We also have eight World Travel Lounge high street stores, so it’s been great for our own agents to trial Chillimix in stores.
“In terms of marketing, we work closely with Gaydio on campaigns, are active on social media and have been marketing to our existing customer base at World Travel Lounge. We are holding our big announcements back for when travel comes back fully.
“Destination-wise, Gran Canaria is selling well for us. We’ve also chartered an LGBT+ friendly tour to Brazil with Latin Routes for next year and I’m confident it will sell out. It’s great us being a small operator as we can work with other operators and help each other out because we are non-competing – we both get the sale and it taps into a new market.
“When selling LGBT+ friendly holidays it’s important to absolutely understand the rights of the LGBT traveller in the resort you’re sending them to. The biggest risk is sending an LGBT traveller or couple to a destination and they get into trouble, as they have no legal rights as LGBT people. The amount of countries that applies to is scary.
“We have our own internal charter and will only sell a destination that is recognised as a safe destination by the IGLTA. Ultimately it’s the customer’s choice where they want to travel to, however any destination where being LGBT is illegal or punishable by death, we will not sell. We’d rather lose the sale than put someone at risk.
“Having been an agent myself, my main piece of advice to other agents would be not to be scared to embrace LGBT+ customers. There is a fear of offending people, but you won’t by having open, honest conversations. We plan to start working with trade partners to train colleagues to allow them to have confidence having those conversations.
“Although the number of LGBT people working in travel is very high, there needs to be more done to support and champion LGBT+ travel and inclusion across the board.
“It’s still hard to get same-sex imagery from suppliers. It shouldn’t just be two men or two women either – we have the trans community and families too.
“We work very closely with our partners and one of the first things we ask them is ‘what are your LGBT+ inclusion policies?’ If they don’t have them or aren’t interested, we won’t work with them. There was one supplier who ended up creating an LGBT+ inclusion policy after we asked that question. It strengthened our relationship with them and if that’s helped one person anywhere, that’s great.”
“My husband Hugh and I launched Huben Travel last year as we wanted to spend more time together, and we also wanted to create a company that irons out the problems that we’d experienced when travelling.
“Before selling a hotel, we’ll always do a background check and speak to hotel staff to check their attitudes. We’ll also inform them it’s two guys travelling so that they are prepared and can ensure any gifts in the room are appropriate or that the dressing gowns are for men.
“We have our own Atol so often package trips up for clients, but even if we’ve booked a fly and flop trip with an operator such as Tui, we’ll always call the hotel in advance ourselves so we can put some notes on the booking for our clients.
“We’ve spent lots of money on social media advertising and PR to raise our profile. We’ve also advertised on gay radio stations and joined a local BNI networking group to get in front of new customers.
“My main tip for others selling LGBT+ friendly holidays is to really do your research for the client and arm them with the information they need about a destination before they commit to travelling there.
“If they want to travel somewhere that’s not particularly LGBT+ friendly, we have suggested destination alternatives. We use a useful resource called Equaldex on our site and when conducting research, which is a knowledge base that includes information on LGBT rights in countries around the world.
“In terms of destinations, generally for our clients if they want a gay party holiday we recommend Mykonos, other Greek destinations, Italy, Spain or Gran Canaria. For honeymoons it’s Bali, Thailand or California. Emerging LGBT+ friendly destinations include Tel Aviv, South Africa and Rwanda.
“I believe the LGBT+ community are well supported in the travel industry, especially as it attracts LGBT+ staff. We do struggle with suppliers when we ask for imagery of same-sex couples though: so many don’t have these images for use in our marketing. Celebrity Cruises is brilliant though and has a whole folder.
“If you’re thinking of selling LGBT+ friendly holidays, speak to agents like us as we’d be happy to help. As we have our own Atol, we’d work with other agents too and pay them commission for bookings.
“Finally, my top tip would be to ask questions – don’t feel like you can’t ask as the client would always rather you did than have a mediocre holiday.”
“During the pandemic we’ve been refining our product and reaching out to hotels to create a preferred hotel programme, which are hotels that have been vetted by me and that we’ve built a relationship with. There are 70 on the list so far including Los Altos resort in Mexico and various Hyatts around the world. As well as calling each hotel and asking the hotel manager questions I’ll also look on TripAdvisor and visit forums to see what past guests have said.
“Being LGBT+ myself, my husband and I have had some amazing experiences and some not so great experiences travelling. It can be a struggle as an LGBT+ traveller as so much of the world is still closed to us, so I like to share my own experiences and other people’s experiences when selling holidays.
“My tip for selling LGBT+ friendly holidays is to really listen to clients’ needs – ask where they have been previously and how they felt on previous holidays. Also know your product to be able to offer the right recommendations for their wants and needs and to reassure clients.
“There is a long list of destinations I won’t sell. I want clients to enjoy every single penny they spend and I want them to be able to be who they are on holiday without experiencing any discrimination or prejudice.
“So much more needs to be done across the world and in travel to support LGBT+ people, and allyship is one of the key things to make things progress more quickly.
“There are only really a few of us in travel that offer product for the LGBT+ community, which is a sign of how far we still need to come.”