Travel Obstacles for Gay and Lesbian Travelers

Creative Commons License photo credit: cheukiecfu

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.

By: Matt Long

Matt has a true passion for travel. As someone who has a bad case of the travel bug, Matt travels the world in order to share tips on where to go, what to see and how to experience the best the world has to offer.

13 thoughts on “Travel Obstacles for Gay and Lesbian Travelers”

  1. I know some travel websites now offer discounts for gay and lesbian couples, which I think it awesome. I hope to see more of it!

  2. Matt I love when you write post about this subject because you truly hit the subject perfectly. “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.” <<<==That quote sums up how I feel about every where I go.

    I'm not sure if you follow my blog or not, but I recently wrote about how I felt about GLBT issues in Central America & Mexico 100 days into my travels. (Here's the link I didn't want it to sound like a rant, but in the end I wrote it because it was feelings that I had bottled up for a while now & things I had observed on the road.

    I agree with everything you say especially about us all coming from a huge diverse background. I wish advertising agencies would understand that, but unfortunately I doubt they ever well. It would cost them too much money to actually understand us and advertise to the 90% that is not into the club scene. I know now that I'm on the road I have been going out a lot more when a gay club is available because well most of the time that is the only outlet I have to meet gay people (I'm single I wanna have fun).

  3. Spot on! And really the biggest thing that I want to know about a destination how safe it is to be me. In a couple of countries I’ve been to recently when people start making comments about trying to find me a nice wife, why aren’t I married, do I know where to pick up the ladies, etc., I find myself holding my breath initially being unsure how a truthful response would be received. So knowing that if I had a partner, location X would be OK to be more overt and the opposite is the case in location Y would be most helpful.

    I’m so glad you brought up the rainbow flag, too. Some businesses throw it up just to get my business without realizing what exactly it means to a GBLT person. I also don’t stay in exclusively queer places, so hanging your huge rainbow flag from the balcony does more to make me steer clear of your establishment than to attract my patronage.

    I’m so sick of the travel industry acting like the only things a gay man cares about when he travels is where to hook up, where to party, and where to shop.

    1. Here here Talon! Well said and thank you for the comments. We actually avoid gay-only establishments, so maybe those rainbow flags are useful after all :)

      And you’re right about the destination, knowing how out to be would be great, although a lot of it is the vibe one picks up. I was just somewhere where I kept my mouth shut about being gay because I knew it wouldn’t have been received well. And I too had to field a lot of “Why aren’t you married?” comments. :)

  4. Thanks again Matt for writing so eloquently how I also feel as a traveler “who happens to be gay”. It was great meeting you at TBEX. I really hope we can get some of the LGBT travel bloggers to come together to show that we are so much more than “rainbows, circuit parties and all-inclusive resorts/cruises”. I know that when I travel, everyone wants to know why I am not married and if I have a boyfriend. In some countries, it’s best to just lie instead of putting one’s self at risk (ie: Jordan and India). It’s refreshing to meet other travelers “who happen to be gay” who are out there traveling and seeing the world for the sake of the experiences.

  5. Fantastic article my friend!! You hit the nail on the head and I can’t tell you how many “gay-friendly” sites show the runway model half-naked men, clubbing, dancing, etc. This represents such a small component of the overall population and this market need NOT be targeted in this way! Way to go for bringing to light the sad truths but hopefully, this will open up the eyes of the marketers!!

  6. I have helped co-produce a pocket guide to Gay Byron Bay over the past 8 years.
    Our publication has had us photograph gay specific, local model specific, and Accommodation specific, photos for advertisements. The publication has been paramount in making the region the no.1 destination for the gay & lesbian traveler.

    A pocket guide that is just not all about bars, glitter and handbags … it’s designed to let the gay les traveler know exactly who is “gay friendly” and where you can take yourself to eat, relax, rejuvenate and spoil yourself in paradise, at a nude beach, or skydiving… without wondering if you will be accommodated with 2 queens instead of a King!

    1. Peter that sounds great and is absolutely the way to go. Congrats on creating not just what sounds like a great resource, but changing the entire tourism landscape. Sadly, not all destinations are so progressive and I’ve seen many LGBT guides that could pass as soft porn. If we don’t take ourselves seriously, no one else will.

  7. I publish the Byron Bay Pink Guide and what Pete says is great, we have strived to be a bit unique, website is also popular.

  8. Great post! I frequently see gay-targeted brochures at hotels and at info stands and they almost always feature bare-chested men and ads for nightlife. Let’s hope that as this targeted advertising becomes more sophisticated, the stereotypes will fall to the wayside.

  9. While the gay community is unquestionably diverse, I think it’s great that they can find common ground in the fact that they all just want to spend their days dancing naked covered in glitter while waving rainbow flags. I also think it’s nice of them to make marketers’ jobs so easy.

    …And just to be on the safe side–that’s sarcasm. Please don’t send me hate mail…

  10. Matt I love reading what you post – you are a pleasure to read.
    There are more of us “just like that” than various promoters think to realise.

    This is why we started Australia’s first truly GLBT tour company a few years back. To ensure GLBT travellers to Australia know we are more than a festival, more than a party.

    I have been asked many times by the industry as a whole, “How do we capture the Gay Market?” It’s difficult not to simply say, “Lay a trap with some circuit party tickets, a few pills and some sparkly Speedos. They will fall right into it.”

    Unfortunately, you are 100% correct. One of the world’s largest and respected Hotel chains, just three years ago, told my group at check in “Now remember, we are a family hotel, no naked swimming parties late at night please.”
    We all laughed. Awkwardly. Mostly because everyone knows our naked swimming parties take place during the day, where you can see everything.

    Our needs are not that different from our non-GLBT travelling friends, just varied slightly.
    We tend to use the internet more – so free WiFi is better than a copy of the local “massage list” from 18 months ago.
    We drink the same amount of bottled water as non-GLBT people, so we would like a free bottle on the bed stand just as much.

    Whilst a rainbow flag is a wonderful, pride filled sight on a hotel, a tour company or an airline, it’s more important to have solid knowledge of what that entails – “just act normal” sounds right – be respectful.

    The “king bed syndrome” as it was once referred to by a hotelier in NYC, is not that hard – if you are given a booking with a king bed, honour it. Don’t question it. If the two girls or guys checking in are not comfortable with the idea of a pillow wall down the centre, they WILL say something.

    When all is said and done, I have had to travel and dine with my “brother” a lot more than my partner, and that is kind of sad. However on the upside, when you have to put your arm around them in Fiji, Jamaica or India at a dinner function, no one even glances at a sibling.

    Thanks for the great writing – keep it coming!

    Barry Warner

    Thanks for writing

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