Every few months I see something that provokes a ranty post, usually about the LGBT community and how the travel industry doesn’t do a very good job of marketing towards us. Well guess what time of the year it is? That’s right, time for another thoughtful if not somewhat ranty post about the dismal, horrible, awful job most (but not all) companies and destinations that comprise the largest industry in the world – travel – do when it comes time to put together a marketing campaign that would appeal to the LGBT market.
Good question and I’m glad I asked. First there’s the business angle. The worldwide LGBT travel market is conservatively estimated to be well in excess of $150 billion annually. I say conservatively because it’s frankly a hard number to suss out as many don’t necessarily self-identify as LGBT, but it’s a good place to start. On average, gay couples include two individuals who both have full time jobs, good jobs that provide a lot of extra income. The majority of us don’t have kids so apart from mortgage payments and weekly brunches, we typically choose to spend that money on luxuries like travel. I’m not sure that there’s any other minority group out there that enjoys travel a much as we do, but our interest in travel is sadly nowhere to be seen when it comes to travel advertising and outreach.
We should all also care because there is a dignity issue at stake here. I don’t care if you hate me because I’m gay (not quite true, but that’s not the point) we should all care that the companies and destinations we decide to donate our hard-earned cash to do the utmost to treat everyone with respect. I’m not talking about checking into a hotel, I am talking about directing significant portions of marketing dollars to targeting the LGBT community, which I don’t see a lot of. I think most companies figure we’ll travel anyway, so why bother. I’ll get to that in a second.
But Wait, I Thought Companies Do Care?
Sort of. They care about the money we bring them and so many commit token gestures of kindness or empathy in the hopes of higher ratings with the Human Rights Campaign or a blurb in a LGBT magazine or web site. To show you what I mean, let’s look at a certain travel company for a moment – let’s call them Company X. A couple of years ago they produced a beautiful commercial highlighting the story of a lesbian couple. It was a great ad, it wasn’t over the top and it achieved their marketing goals while at the same time showing some respect in how they treated the LGBT community. The problem is that I never saw that ad anywhere except by people who shared it online; most of them involved with the ad’s development. When I turned on the TV I never saw it, when I scrolled through online news sources I never saw it. I’m sure they bought some airtime somewhere, but it was minimal. A year later though when Company X came out with an iPad app you better believe the airwaves were inundated with those commercials. I couldn’t turn the channel without being bashed over the head with it. Now let’s take a look at the Company X web page devoted to LGBT travel. It hasn’t changed in at least 3 years, and probably longer. The page is pathetically light on any information and highlights a few gay ghettoes as travel destinations. The page itself isn’t only useless, it’s offensive. I have no doubt that the individuals who work at Company X care immensely about LGBT rights, I know for a fact that they do. But when it comes time to devote money and corporate resources to integrating LGBT messaging in mainstream advertising, that care is sadly nowhere to be seen.
Company X is who I decided to pick on today, but they’re not alone. Most major travel companies do this, destinations too. They devote precious little attention to the LGBT community and when they do it’s dripping with stereotypes. Rainbow flags, half naked men and the like. That’s not how the majority of us travel, a fact they still haven’t come to understand.
You’re Awfully Complainy, What Do You Want?
I am complaining a lot and it’s because I’m angry. I’m angry that for as much progress that we have made legally and culturally that it doesn’t seem to really matter. I’m not looking for big ad campaigns filled with rainbow streamers; in fact I think that would be horrible. Instead I just want companies and destinations to include the LGBT community in their advertising naturally, just as they do with other groups. Commercials are becoming more reflective of our changing demographics and that’s great. Thirty years ago most ads just had white folks, today you see all groups represented. It helps, it gives members of these communities a feeling that they matter. Children look up to role models who look and act like them and it’s great that these now exist for most minority groups, but it doesn’t for the LGBT community. When I watch an Expedia or Travelocity ad, I don’t see members of the LGBT included in natural ways. I don’t see us represented at all. That’s what we need. We need to feel like we’re part of society, that we aren’t separate from it and pop culture helps aid in that effort.
We also need better role models. The average gay traveler is not a party-going 20-something. A company’s key target demographics don’t change just because you want to talk to the LGBT community. If you’re a luxury hotel and the average age of a guest is 45 and affluent, then those are the same metrics as your LGBT guests. But you need to include them, have them feel like they’re a part of your business model. When you produce a print ad, why not showcase a gay couple once in a while instead of a straight couple? Companies and destinations should work with people who can help shape and share these messages. I see a lot of companies work with young actors and writers to serve as token gays, and that’s sadly all they are. They conform to a stereotype and with very little exception do little to advance the conversation. There are exceptions to this rule of course, and they should be lauded for their efforts. Just as I ask companies to portray the LGBT as a normal, everyman so should writers and influencers. Instead of highlighting exclusionary activities that are gay-only, we need to serve as role models and show other members of our community that we can go anywhere and do anything, that hate and prejudice don’t hold us back. Case in point: The other day I posted a photo of Bermuda to my Instagram account. I had a reader comment that he had cancelled a trip there because a friend told him on the whole it wasn’t a gay-friendly destination. I shared with him my own positive experiences and now he’s reconsidering that decision. That’s what it’s all about. Real people sharing real stories and helping change opinions along the way.
As with all of my ranty posts this one is somewhat rambling and I think I forgot a few of my key points, but in general it’s all there. I shouldn’t have to parade around in a tank-top, partying the night away in order to be seen as a gay traveler. The travel industry should instead realize that we’re not all that different from other travelers with a notable exception, we need to be shown more respect. We need to be included and we need to be portrayed in ways that advance the causes we’ve fought so hard for instead of shoving us back into antiquated and offensive stereotypes.
Marketing and PR is all about storytelling; it’s high time they started telling our true story.
What do you think?