I’ve written about how the travel industry relates, or doesn’t, to the gay and lesbian traveler and how in general, the GLBT community doesn’t fare well when it comes to good travel marketing. I’ve also discussed the immense buying power that the GLBT community represents and the shock that so few travel/hospitality entities have taken advantage of this massive pool of cash. But the one thing I haven’t really discussed is why we, as gay and lesbian travelers, deserve some extra attention in the first place.
The root of my problem with most gay and lesbian targeted travel marketing is that it assumes every person in our community is the same. Not only does it make that quantum leap in poor logic, it also caters to the lowest common denominator.
A quick review of gay and lesbian travel advertising would lead the uninitiated to quickly believe three things:
- The gay and lesbian community really loves the rainbow flag and glitter. Preferably together.
- The gay and lesbian community loves massive dance parties
- The gay and lesbian community love to travel with people who are either naked, or mostly naked
I know, it’s funny right? I agree, at first it’s hilarious that any serious marketing professional would pitch these concepts in a meeting and then have a room of other professionals agree and produce the actual advertising. But after I laugh, I get sad. I get sad that in spite of all of the advances the gay and lesbian community has made over the last twenty years, we’re still firmly locked in a closet of stereotypes and offensive imagery.
The fact is that the gay and lesbian community is arguably the most diverse minority group in the world. We come from every nation, speak every language, adhere to every religion, we are rich and poor, educated and dumb as a rock. From a US perspective, it’s much the same, gay and lesbian people come from every imaginable background and our interests reflect that fact. That’s in part why it’s been so difficult to market to us, we’re TOO diverse to capture with a single ad campaign, which is why they advertisers go with stereotypes when designing their ads.
Are there gay and lesbian people who travel in order to dance, drink and meet new (half naked) people? Sure! There are also straight people who travel for the same reason, but we don’t see as much advertising for them, unless it’s in Playboy.
When my partner of ten years and I travel, we don’t travel to get drunk or dance the night away. I, in fact, hate to dance. (shocking, I know) We travel for the same reason most other people travel, to see the world and learn more about other people and their cultures and, hopefully, a little more about ourselves in the process.
But that doesn’t mean the travel industry shouldn’t target the gay and lesbian community at all, they should and here’s why.
As far as the gay and lesbian community has advanced in recent years, there’s still a lot more that needs to be done. Many of us who grew up in a time that was less accepting than today, have some inherent concerns when approaching new situations. It’s still not uncommon for a gay or lesbian person or couple to be beat up and even killed not just around the world, but in the United States as well. I grew up being told how awful gay and lesbian people were and hearing stories of violence on the news only cemented the belief that the world can be brutal when it comes to being out of the closet. Just as a note, I have never had any problems when traveling, but this is the perception with which many in the gay and lesbian community travel the world.
On a daily basis, I’m in a comfort zone. I know what to expect, other people know what to expect, and all is well in the world. When I travel, I don’t do so fearfully, but there is an extra layer of caution which people who aren’t gay don’t have to accept. I’m not whining or complaining about it, it’s just how it is. I know that in certain areas of the world, my partner and I should not ask for a king size bed. I know that in certain areas of the world when someone asks if we’re brothers, we should probably just say yes. I don’t love it, but it’s how it is and I’m good with it. But why travel marketing geared toward the gay and lesbian community is important is because it lets us know which aspects of the travel experience are indeed accepting and tolerant.
I don’t want an airline to show me a photo of boa twirling men dancing through the aisles. I want them to show me an image of a gay or lesbian couple enjoying the business or first class accommodations. Not only is it nice to see people who look like you in advertising, but it shows me that they value my business and, more importantly, their staff knows how to deal with us.
I don’t need hotels to attach ridiculous rainbow flags to their doors. Instead, I need their staffs to have gone through some sort of sensitivity training so that I’m not embarrassed at check in. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve checked into a hotel only to be told, “Oh no, they put you in a king, let me get you two a couple of doubles…” I correct them, but it’s awkward and is frankly an extra negative encounter I don’t need.
The same goes for destinations, although it is a bit trickier for them to manage. I do, sort of, appreciate the effort many cities and countries put into establishing GLBT sections of their sites or newsletters, but they tend to be counterproductive. I looked at one and it listed nightclubs, bars and “best places to cruise.” Who do they think I am? I know of no one like this and find it so incredibly insulting I’m seething as I write this. What I would like to know about destinations is frankly how safe they are for me, what the community has done to progress GLBT issues, etc. This speaks more about the gay and lesbian community in that city than any circuit party can.
We as a community usually don’t discuss the travel obstacles we encounter on the road, I don’t think we want to come across as whiney and I’ve only mentioned a couple. More than anything else though is perception. I desperately want the travel industry to start respecting me, and my money, for who I am and not who they think I am.