Travel to festivals and tolerant destinations, both domestic and international, are among the trends currently noted in the LGBT travel market, according to industry representatives.
Colin Sines, president of Travel Gay Canada, told PAX that a recent consumer study by TGC estimates the Canadian LGBT travel market is worth approximately $8.5 billion, with approximately 49 per cent of that figure spent within Canada and the remainder divided between the U.S. (23 per cent) and other international destinations (28 per cent).
The TGC report also stated that within the Canadian LGBT community, 37 per cent of men earn upwards of $75,000 (another 8.7 per cent earn more than $150,000), with the average amount spent on travel at approximately $4,300 annually.
“Over the last few years, people are starting to realize the market impact this particular segment can make,” Sines said. “It’s a niche market, but it’s hugely influential and affluent.”
Internationally, Sines said that China is currently home to the largest LGBT travel market, worth more than $450 billion. The Chinese market will be among the topics during an upcoming TGC conference in Windsor next month.
Rob Sharp of Toronto’s Out Adventures explained that with the LGBT market made up of “segments within segments,” current travel trends are further divided with certain destinations, events and forms of travel appealing to different communities, such as the annual Dinah Shore Weekend in Palm Springs, California which continues to be among the most popular lesbian events in the world.
While international cities known for their nightlife and gay communities - such as New York, Los Angeles and Montreal – continue to draw LGBT travellers, Sharp said that Out Adventures is currently seeing a lot of interest in festivals and events, such as those related to Pride and the circuit party scene.
Sharp said that with a decline in such events in North America, destinations such as Barcelona (home of the famed Circuit Festival) and the Greek island of Mykonos (which features the annual Xcelsior summer event) are currently drawing many gay travellers. Although the recently renewed conflict in Israel has affected tourism numbers to the region, Sharp said that Tel Aviv is another popular destination, with events such as the Forever Tel Aviv festival and what has been described as the strongest LGBT community in the Middle East.
Like the travel industry at large, age demographics play a large part in the LGBT market. Sines said that with 62 per cent of the LGBT population in Canada between 25 and 55, many of those travellers are seeking mainstream destinations as opposed to those specifically catering to the LGBT community.
Sharp said that younger LGBT travellers are more likely to couch-surf, engage in adventure travel and take shorter weekend trips. He also noted that within the market, younger travellers are more likely to vacation independently than their older peers, which he attributes to the more tolerant society that they have grown up in.
“They’ve grown up in a much more inclusive world where it’s acceptable to be an LGBT person,” Sharp said. “They don’t see the need to travel in a group environment, unless it’s in a cruise setting.”
Despite homophobic attitudes and laws that exist in some parts of the world, Sharp said that many countries and destinations are welcoming LGBT travellers with open arms, with Thailand, Israel and Spain among the most prominent nations to embrace the market. While other countries, due to prevailing social/cultural beliefs or values, may not be reaching out to gay travellers proactively, Sharp - citing Peru as an example - said that many other destinations understand the economic benefits of providing a tolerant attitude toward LGBT visitors. Sines and Sharp both noted that unlike other segments of the travel industry, LGBT travel did not decline as a result of the recent global recession.
“There are certain countries that are putting a focus on the LGBT market for a number of reasons,” said Sharp. “Hopefully, they are truly welcoming but they also see the value in this market – it bounces back in times of crisis very quickly and I think in the recession, while the LGBT travel market may have seen its growth flatten out, it didn’t see the decline as witnessed in other markets.”
(Photo courtesy of Rob Sharp/Out Adventures)