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Will Queers Save the Travel Industry — Again?

Travel industry experts are hopeful that queer travel will help recovery from global shutdown; surveys shows LGBTQ+ persons are eager to travel again with some safety precautions

That’s the question the travel industry wants to answer. A new survey may have the answer.

It’s generally recognized in the traveler industry that queers were some of the first to return to the market after the terrorist attacks of 2001, and the industry is cautiously optimistic queer travel will come to the rescue once again after current travel restrictions are lifted. And while LGBTQ+ travelers will be more safety conscious going forward, recent surveys show they are very eager to get back on the road, which is welcome news for the industry.

“Particularly in New York City, it’s widely said that after 9/11 when things opened back up, our community was the first to be out there, supporting the shows and the restaurants, and the hotels and getting back out into the world,” John Tanzella, CEO of the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association, told Skift this spring

In the past two decades the LGBTQ+ community has proven themselves voracious travelers who reward brands that publicly support us. Destinations and resorts discovered that courting the community was well worth the investment. According to the Phoenix-based marketing company, Lavidge, the 1.5 million LGBTQ+ tourists descending on Fort Lauderdale, spend $1.5 billion annually.

Results from a May, 2020 Harris Poll, a mainstream surveying agency that has been reporting on American’s attitudes since the 1960s, reiterate that LGBTQ+ travelers differ from our straight counterparts in important ways. For one, we do more of it. “LGBT adults, for example, reported taking an average of 3.6 leisure trips in the past year (compared to 2.3 leisure trips for non-LGBT adults) as well as 2.1 business trips, on average, compared to 1.2 trips by non-LGBT adults.” 

That's almost twice as much business travel, and shows we're leading the pack on business leisure, one of the biggest growth areas prior to the pandemic. But what does the future hold? Will history repeat itself? Will queers ride in to save the day? Several recent surveys provide insight into our travel plans.

In March, when stay-at-home orders and travel bans were beginning in earnest, many would-be travelers still had relatively rosy expectations for the future, as a survey by the app TripScout discovered. According to a press release at the time, 77 percent of responding TripScout users reported they’d already had to cancel or reschedule existing travel plans. Yet 90 percent still planned on traveling in 2020. Seventy percent were planning for trips 6 months away and 60 percent said they planned on traveling just as much as they originally anticipated in 2020, assuming this was “over relatively soon.”

Of course, things didn’t return to “normal” in March or April, and by May the Harris Poll revealed the American public was more hesitant about returning to travel full bore. Still, that survey found that LGBT respondents planned to travel sooner than non-LGBT adults. We were twice as likely to plan travel over Memorial Day weekend, and 28 percent of LGBT respondents (versus 21 percent) planned to go on a leisure trip between May and the end of August. Over half (51 percent) of LGBT respondents expected to travel for vacation in 2020 (versus 21 percent non-LGBTs respectively).

Regardless of whether they were planning to travel in 2020 or not, LGBT Harris Poll respondents also felt more confident overall about traveling, and in making specific travel choices. LGBT folks reported feeling more comfortable traveling in the U.S. (64 percent vs. 58 percent) or to Europe (35 percent vs. 28 percent). Although we were still hesitant about cruises, we still more comfortable than non-LGBT repondents (31 percent vs. 23 percent). Similarly, LGBT folks were more likely to attend a crowded event, concert, theme park, or beach (33 percent vs. 25 percent)

While the Harris Poll focused on (both straight and queer) American views and the TripScout survey polled app users indiscriminately, the International LGBTQ+ Travel Association focused exclusively on the views of the (global) LGBTQ+ community. Nearly people 15,000 responded to the ILGTA, the majority hailing from the United States, Brazil, Canada, France, or Mexico. Most of the respondents were gay men (88 percent identified as men and 77 percent of respondents identified as gay).

“Previous studies have shown our community to be a resilient and loyal travel segment with a tendency to travel more than their non-LGBTQ+ counterparts,” said IGLTA President and CEO Tanzella in a statement to the press. “We wanted to document their sentiments during this particularly challenging moment in time to remind the tourism industry at large that LGBTQ+ travelers should be a valued part of their recovery plans. Messages of inclusion have the potential to resonate even more strongly with LGBTQ+ travelers now."

Once safety protocols are established, the results indicate the global LGBTQ community is ready to resume travel in 2020. Two-thirds (66 percent) of respondents said they would feel comfortable traveling again for leisure this year, with September and October the most popular choices.

Nearly half (46 percent) said they would not change the types of destinations they choose to visit, reflecting a high degree of destination loyalty. Only about 28 percent said they would change their destination choices.

The IGLTA survey also asked respondents their openness to a number of travel activities. The percentage likely/very likely this year to:

  • take a domestic leisure trip (57 percent)
  • take an international leisure trip (29 percent)
  • book a short-haul flight (45 percent)
  • attend an LGBTQ+ Pride event (33 percent)

Overall the picture of the potential LGBTQ+ traveler reveals one more cautious because of the pandemic — especially activities where social distancing is difficult — yet determined to return to travel as soon as they feel safe to do so. For many of us, travel is an important part of our lives, and often an avenue for connecting with others like ourselves. That’s why most travel insiders believe the LGBTQ+ community will be back, and sooner than other communities. Even if it may take a year or two for our engagement to return to pre-pandemic heights.

Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

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