There’s no stopping the lesbian travel boom. From exotic destinations to boozy cruises, this year’s trends are off to a jet-setting start.
Community Marketing Inc., a leading LGBT marketing agency, has released its 16th annual gay and lesbian tourism report for 2011, giving the LGBT community a wealth of leisure and business travel trends to contemplate on their next flight.
The survey indicates a 1-3 percent increase in travel among the LGBT community, which hasn’t happened for the past 16 years. Top motivators include curiosity to explore new destinations, relaxation, return destinations and visiting friends and family members. There is an emphasis on learning about culture by taking part in art, music and theatrical tours and wine tastings. Staycations continue as a general travel trend. “As we come out of the recession, that might change—but taking vacations a drive away from home was definitely the big recession trend in our community,” explains David Paisley, Senior Projects Director with Community Marketing, Inc.
Most lesbians consider themselves to be “urban core travelers” rather than “eco travelers” or “outdoor adventure travelers” and stick to mid-range travel options over budget and luxury tour packages. Interestingly, the main reason why travelers choose budget trips has less to do with being low-income and more to do with a desire to spread their travel money over as many vacations as possible. Additionally, tourism boards representing urban cities have been successful in reaching the LGBT community more so than expensive resort destinations.
Destinations with gay-friendly laws certainly attract more lesbian travelers, but that doesn’t necessarily eliminate conservative cities. Destination boycotts are less effective because many LGBT travelers choose not to penalize people because of state laws. About one third of travelers, however, opt not to travel to destinations with an anti-gay slant. Anti-gay violence predictors deter travelers from visiting specific cities rather than anti-gay laws.
A large portion of lesbian travelers choose a destination based on how welcoming to LGBT visitors it is, and also trust recommendations from friends and family within the community, taking into account the nightlife scene of bars, clubs and parties. As the financial situations of the young and energetic under-35 bracket improve, so does the commitment to take advantage of vacation days. Lesbian and bisexual women reported an average of 3.3 leisure trips, 1.6 business trips and 2.6 round trip flights within the last 12 months.
About 24 percent of lesbians surveyed are legally married, in a civil union or registered domestic partnership. Going along with the recession theme, it’s common for couples to get married in their own state rather than traveling somewhere else to do so. Most honeymooning couples spend $2,500 or less, and 50 percent travel to warm destinations. With more lesbian couples beginning to start families, naturally they want to travel with their kids. For the 19 percent of lesbians who indicate having children under 18 living at home, family-friendly preferences are twice as important as LGBT-friendly preferences.
Hotel Perks: What really matters?
When it comes down to where to stay, don’t underestimate the power of a large hotel room. Lesbians consider hotel size as a strong factor when deciding where to vacation. Provincetown, Key West and Palm Springs ranked high among cities with large hotel rooms in the country. Location, price, gay-friendly reputation of the hotel, traveler reviews, and sponsored LGBT events are other key considerations.
Furthermore, 33 percent of lesbian and bisexual woman prefer mid-range hotels to luxury and budget options. Urban boutique hotels have been effective in primarily outreaching to the LGBT market while remaining heterosexual friendly. High ranking incentives include 15 percent discounts, an additional free night, Visa shopping cards and free breakfast.
Gone are the days of postcards and letters in a bottle. In today’s technology-driven world, lesbian travelers are using the Internet to finalize various components of their trip. Most vacations are booked online after visiting between three to four different websites. Many travelers consider the availability of free Wi-Fi at hotels as a strong factor in choosing a hotel. Plus, 60 percent of smartphone users post regular updates of their trip to social networks.
Cruising: The beaches are calling
Cruises remain the lesbian community’s prime option for affordable, all-inclusive vacations. Mexico and the Bahamas are frequent cruise destinations, and with the economy beginning to improve, bigger trip tickets to Africa and Europe are sure to become more prevalent.
President and CEO of Olivia, Judy Dlugacz, notes a definite increase in exotic destinations. “We are seeing more and more women going on our large cruises and resort [vacations], as well as our more exotic trips to Scandinavia, Vietnam and Tahiti,” she tells GO. Furthermore, lesbians are less likely to cruise solo on straight cruises. Dlugacz’s prediction for this year is that more women will experience all-inclusive women’s charters, a current trend expected to increase. Lesbian travel companies often charter ships from Royal Caribbean or Paul Gauguin Cruises to access far-flung locales; Olivia and R Family Vacations, which offers cruises targeted to groups and families, have pioneered this technique.
Sweet specializes in ‘voluntourism’ cruises that welcome a bit of debauchery as guests discover a deeper meaning of life through travel. Sweet CEO Shannon Wentworth is a firm believer in both friendly pricing and improving local communities. “Our guests love our interest-free and fee-free monthly payment plans and affordable pricing,” Wentowrth says, “but the thing people love the most about vacations is that we leave the places we visit better than we found them by partnering with the locals to do community service.”
Destinations: The shortlist
Europe was a popular vacation destination in 2011 with London, Paris and Italy topping the list of global hotspots to visit. Culture serves as a main motivator for European travel—think great food, museums, architecture and performing arts. And those who appreciate the finer things are likely to participate in interest-tailored tours.
Within the United States, New York City remains the “most desired travel destination among the LGBT community” and with countless gay-friendly bars, neighborhoods and activities, it seems an obvious choice. The fast-paced city ranked number one among LGBT travelers in three different components: most visits within the last 12 months, most gay-friendly destination in the world and favorite destination (enhanced by New York’s legalization of same-sex marriage). Lesbians traveling to New York go to the gayborhoods and experience its nightlife; this is particularly true for the under-35 set, which is more interested in attending Pride parties than their older counterparts.
Other popular cities in the U.S. include San Francisco, Las Vegas, New Orleans and Miami.
San Francisco is very family-friendly due to the city’s domestic partnership rulings and child protections laws. The mild temperatures throughout the year, scenic outdoor parks and LGBT-friendly community are other perks. Las Vegas specifically caters to the LGBT community by offering affordable vacation packages that can even include commitment ceremonies. New Orleans’ French Quarter combines both culture and history with a slew of gay-friendly bars and clubs to boot. Miami’s winter weekend getaway appeal and calendar of LGBT events keep it on the shortlist.
Megan Eileen McDonough is a freelance travel writer based in New York City. She also runs Bohemian Trails (bohemiantrails.com), an online magazine designed for the avant-garde traveler looking to go off-the-beaten-path.