Underrepresented LGBTQ community an untapped market

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Lesbian couple
Photo Credit: Alessandro Biascioli/Shutterstock

NEW YORK -- Despite being far more likely to have a passport than the average U.S. citizen and much more likely to use it, members of the LGBTQ community feel underrepresented when it comes to tourism marketing. 

Research presented at last month's International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association Annual Global Convention here shows that members of the LGBTQ community want to spend money with companies that support LGBTQ equality. Yet, data from Community Marketing & Insights (CMI) indicates that subsets of the expanding LGBTQ market feel excluded from marketing efforts, presenting travel companies with the opportunity to tap into underserved niches.

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CMI founder and executive vice president Thomas Roth said at the convention that the vast majority of LGBTQ people surveyed care if a brand or a company supports their community.

"That means 95% really do care that you're engaged with the LGBTQ community, that you're not just out there looking for our money, that you're involved with us, that you get us, that you genuinely want us to be embraced," he said.

The majority of  LGBTQ people surveyed, 76%, said companies supportive of LGBTQ equality will get more of their business this year. Only 2% disagreed with that sentiment. The remainder were neutral.

It's incumbent on companies themselves to share their inclusivity with the LGBTQ community, said David Paisley, CMI's senior research director. That can be accomplished through public relations efforts and advertising. Community members are still very connected to the LGBTQ press, he added.

What's in a name?

Through the years, the LGBTQ community has gone by many names. CMI found that currently in the U.S., 30% prefer LGBTQ, followed by LGBT (28%), LGBTQ+ (13%) and queer (12%). 

Those names have evolved over the years, expanding from "gay," to "gay and lesbian," to where it now includes the transgender and queer initials. CMI used to track research for just gay men and lesbians, but it now tracks 23 identities.

"We are not binary," Roth said. "We are very diverse, and we have to understand that diversity within our own community."

The message to those who want to market to the community is that there are a lot of choices when it comes to its name, Paisley said, and "no matter what some consultant or [we] tell you is the right word, the majority of the LGBT population disagrees with that, which is really interesting."

Based on their popularity among those surveyed by CMI, Roth recommends using the terms LGBTQ, LGBT or LGBTQ+. He cautioned against using the term "queer," saying it is generally only used within the community. It's also a loaded term for some.

Find the right niche

A number of subgroups within the LGBTQ community feel underrepresented in marketing efforts.

In a CMI survey that asked if companies did a good job reaching out to their communities, only 5% of lesbians said they did, while 58% said they didn't and 37% were neutral. But 90% said they would be more likely to support and do business with companies that market to and support them. 

"Most of the lesbian community out there feels like you're not doing a good job, and frankly, we're not doing a good job of outreaching to the women's market, and they want you to," Paisley said. "But it's not just the lesbian market that feels that way."

Similarly, only 6% of respondents who identify as transgender/gender-expansive said they felt companies do a good job of outreach to their community, but 88% said they would be more likely to support and do business with companies that market to and support those communities.

The numbers were similar with other subsets of the LGBTQ community, including African-American, Latino and Asian-American participants.

These numbers present an opportunity to be first-in-market with any of those groups.

Paisley cited Autostraddle, a website popular with lesbian, bisexual and queer women, which was represented at CMI's conference a few months ago. He asked then if even one travel company advertised on it. 

"And they said no, even though they're the hottest lesbian website out there," Paisley said. "So you're really missing a lot of market."

Roth advised travel companies that want to reach the community to target a particular subset and to focus on groups they've already had success with. 

"If you're really strong with women travelers, then focus on the lesbian community. If you're really strong with boomers, focus on the boomer LGBTQ community," he said. "Find that affinity between what you're already successful with in your existing markets that you're attracting and interpret them for the LGBTQ market."

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