Attitudes throughout Europe toward the LGBT travel market are evolving, with established gay-friendly destinations ramping up their consumer outreach and new markets making their way – in some cases reluctantly – onto the scene.
That said, “gay-friendly tourism” can mean different things to different people, according to Carlos Kytka, executive director, Gay European Tourism Association (GETA).
A membership organization with more than 4,200 members worldwide, GETA advises businesses and organizations involved in gay tourism in Europe to improve the quality of European holidays for gay travelers.
“There are some destinations that attract masses of gay people, and if you want to be surrounded by other gay holiday makers, these are the places for you,” he said, citing Gran Canaria, Mykonos and Sitges as great European seaside destinations with a wealth of gay bars and clubs and a welcoming atmosphere.
But other travelers might prefer a more sophisticated, urban experience, and for this market he recommended London, Paris, Berlin and Barcelona as cities that have consistently gone out of their way to roll out the welcome mat to gay visitors.
“In fact, VisitBritain … ran a major campaign in the U.S. earlier this year encouraging gay American tourists [to visit], following the country’s the new gay marriage laws,” Kytka said.
Newer entries onto the market include Stockholm, Antwerp and Vienna, which, in recent years, have made a real effort to build their gay credentials and promote themselves to gay tourists.
“The other relatively new development is the growth of gay-only cruises around Europe,” he said. “Some are huge dance cruises, others more relaxed sightseeing tours.”
But what about when an otherwise appealing destination is slow to present a welcoming face to LGBT travelers?
“Last year the people of Croatia, which is an amazing holiday destination, voted against gay marriage in a referendum,” he said. “This sent a strong signal to gay people that we will not be welcome … and with so many other countries welcoming us, why should we spend our money there?”
Fortunately, the Croatian government did an about face and recently introduced same-sex partnership legislation, he said, which reignited interest in the destination.
“It is a bit silly for a country dependent on tourism to alienate this important market,” Kytka said, noting that gay travelers typically have more disposable income than non-gay travelers, have a greater propensity to travel, spends more while traveling and is often not limited to school vacation weeks.
He advised travel agents planning leisure travel for their LGBT clients to “remember that gay people are just like any other holiday makers. We want to be made to feel welcome.”
And what should suppliers and tourism offices do to attract this valuable market?
“GETA advises businesses and destinations that there are three factors that you need if you want to attract gay visitors: great attractions, a good gay scene and a warm welcome.”