Different needs and experiences?
Gay travel has historically focused on the mature gay male audience, as research has shown that this segment has the highest opportunity for increasing travel and economic impact, Noonan said. Oftentimes, that meant high-end luxury travel or cruises specifically geared toward gay men or lesbians.
According to Ed Salvato, co-founder of ManAboutWorld, a gay men’s digital travel magazine available exclusively on the iPad, travel professionals and brands in some ways still largely focus on the gay male market.
“This is because two men traveling together typically have more disposable time and income than other groups,” he said. “But there is some emphasis on lesbian travelers. There’s a small amount of emphasis on transgender travelers. There’s no emphasis on bisexual travelers. With respect to families, there are very few destinations and hotels that are actively marketing to this group.
Jeff Bennett, publisher of Proud Parenting, noted that gay dads are an emerging market in luxury vacations, and this can create lucrative prospects for travel agents.
“This means aggressive agents who work with gay men will mold their offerings to include family-friendly options to become more successful,” Bennett said.
Salvato said LGBT families tend to make decisions based on their children first and their own “gayness” second. Many of the same issues are played out as in straight families, such as school vacations or the needs of younger versus older children. But being LGBT parents can complicate travel.
“With respect to the fact that the parents are of the same gender, there are considerations,” Salvato said. “There are legal issues to be cognizant of. Are both parents the legal parents/guardians? Do they have the paperwork to back that up in case there are any questions, especially when traveling abroad or returning from abroad? Do last names match across travel documents? If not, is there paper backup that can be produced to prove familial ties?"
Brian Rosenberg, publisher of GaysWithKids.com, a Web resource that helps gay fathers navigate parenthood issues, adds that LGBT families need to conduct due diligence before contemplating certain travel options like the Caribbean or other less welcoming parts of the globe.
“[We need] to make sure we understand local laws and social tolerance about same-sex couples and families,” he said. “Just because a destination is popular for friends and neighbors doesn’t mean it would be a welcoming destination for our families."
Salvato said, “The parents have to worry about whether they will be warmly welcomed at mostly heterosexual resort destinations. Will there be uncomfortable questions or looks?”
But Rosenberg thinks that most all LGBT families are simply looking for enjoyable and memorable vacation experiences at a fair value.
“LGBT families are looking to be treated with the same sense of fairness and respect [as] typical heterosexual families,” he said.
Bennett agreed that respect is paramount.
“LGBT families aren’t looking for anything different from other families in terms of vacation facilities,” he said. “But we do expect respect from those around us. This is why I recommend travelers let establishments know about their family makeup before they book anything. Trust your instinct if you sense homophobia. Don’t give anyone your business unless your call or email is met with [overwhelming] enthusiasm! Make sure your host knows that you’re a gay family, so there are no surprises.”
Gregg Kaminsky founded R Family Vacations 12 years ago and runs a variety of LGBT-oriented trips, including cruises and camping excursions. He said that LGBT families have more in common with the family travel segment than with the LGBT segment, but thinks both sides of the coin are important.
“Being family-friendly is the most important thing, and then on top of that, the destination or vacation needs to be gay-friendly,” he said. “Nobody wants to spend money where they are not welcome, and there are many options that have always welcomed our community. LGBT family travel is interesting because you really need to fill two needs.”
Kaminsky said that LGBT families sometimes just look for traditional family vacations like Disney or the Grand Canyon, but it’s also important for LGBT families to see other families like their own. Vacations such as Provincetown family week — the world’s largest gathering of gay families, which is held each summer on Cape Cod — can be great options.
Rosenberg agreed. “It is always nice to encounter other LGBT families when traveling."
Steve Brister of GayFamilyTrips.com said that LGBT parents generally look for destinations that are both gay-friendly and family-friendly.
“Standouts in my mind include Orlando, Hawaii, California (San Francisco, San Diego, Los Angeles and Palm Springs) and New York in the U.S.; major cities in Canada; London, Amsterdam and Spain in Europe; and Australia and New Zealand in the Pacific,” Brister said.
Community Marketing & Insights’ data suggest that Disney is a motivating factor for LGBT families. In a recent poll, 16% of LGBT parents vacationed with their children last year and spent a night in a hotel in Disneyland, Disney World or Orlando.
Brands get into the game
Kaminsky said that more travel-related brands are now including the LGBT community in their ads.
“Marriott made a big splash with their #lovetravels campaign,” he said. “Most major airlines have an LGBT page on their website, and Orbitz has had a dedicated LGBT family page for many years."
Barry Pollard, senior vice president of hotel operations for Kimpton Hotels, said his brand feels that families are defined by their deep relationships and commitment.
“There isn’t a ‘typical’ LGBTQ family dynamic,” he said. “We see that families are all looking for similar things when they travel: a safe and welcoming environment, the opportunity to try new things that can be enjoyed by guests of all ages and of course, spending quality time with one another in a new or familiar city."
Kimpton plays up the family angle well. On our Baltimore visit, my son loved the in-room Xbox 360 console and separate room with bunk beds at the Hotel Monaco. At Kimpton’s RiverPlace Hotel in Portland, Ore., the Bedtime Butler visits on random evenings from approximately 6 to 9 p.m. He (or she) carts around nighttime goodies such as books, hot chocolate and stuffed animals along with slippers, fresh towels, tea and calming oils for the parents.
The author, left, with his partner, Lance Jethrow, and children Matthew, 8, and Joshua, 14, meet Mickey Mouse. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Paul J. Heney
While Kimpton doesn’t explicitly ask its guests about their sexual orientation or gender identity, Pollard said Kimpton has heard positive organic feedback from LGBT travelers, and it has “definitely noticed an uptick” in the number of LGBT families.
“Within our community of Karma loyalty program members, we have approximately 70,000 people who have signed up for our dedicated LGBTQ newsletter asking to hear information that’s relevant and important to their community,” Pollard said.
The brand has what Pollard described as a thoughtful, integrated marketing strategy that showcases LGBTQ families in its marketing campaigns, including the company blog and social media communities.
“We never hesitate to publicly celebrate momentous milestones for the LGBTQ community,” he said. “For example, Kimpton was one of 379 companies to sign an amicus brief this year urging the Supreme Court to support marriage equality for all."
A Southwest Airlines representative said that the company’s Customer Insights team works to understand the wants and needs of different segments of travelers, but the airline isn’t doing specific marketing to gay families.
“To date, we have not broken out our LGBT outreach by age or gender. Southwest.com/gaytravel contains content that is broad and intended to reach the entire spectrum of LGBT travelers,” the representative said.
Brister said that Disney was a standout in his opinion.
“I’d give Disney credit for providing a welcoming, enjoyable experience for every guest they serve, whether it’s at a theme park, a resort or on a cruise ship,” he said. “They’re definitely a leader in employee training and marketing efforts that are inclusive of our families. But I’d also compliment most of the major airlines, cruise lines and hotel chains, as they’ve had the opportunity to serve a larger number of our families and adjust their employee training to provide a welcoming, comfortable experience for our families.”
Kaminsky said he thinks LGBT travel has become much more diversified in the past 10 years.
“Traditionally, it was gay or lesbian cruises and resorts,” he said. “Now, you see additional travel options including LGBT family vacations, riverboat cruises and upscale vacations on Seabourn and Azamara. This segment continues to grow as more LGBT couples get married and build families. I do think this is a huge opportunity."
Community Marketing & Insights reports that in 2014, LGBT parents took a median of two vacation trips with their children. Of those, 74% stayed in a hotel at least one time, and 46% flew to their destination at least once.
Bennett said he believes that families who previously felt the need to hide have benefited from the discussion underway in the U.S. about marriage equality.
“The marriage rulings have opened the doors for everyone to come out if they wish, and proven public support will embolden more LGBT families to walk through airports, hail taxis and giggle together on a first subway ride,” he said.
Salvato said that while this is still all relatively new, that also means opportunities are at hand.
“Gay families are very eager to travel and find others like themselves,” he said. “It sounds like a good opportunity for travel agents to become familiar with this segment, find products that make sense and then connect buyers and sellers … everyone wins!”