LGBTQ travelers to the rescue!

Queers leading the way to tourism recovery

By Ed Salvato

Since the tragic events of 9/11 and the abrupt halt to travel that followed, about every 10 years, the tourism industry is knocked back on its heels. The economic meltdown of 2008 and 2009 was even worse on the travel industry than 2001. And the pandemic is a once-a-century calamity exacerbated by the very things that make travel so enriching: large in-person events, meeting new friends at a hotel lounge, slaloming through a crowded bar in a far-flung city.

The travel industry rebooted before, and it will bounce back again soon. And if history is any guide, LGBTQ travelers will be leading the way.

Roger Dow, president and CEO of U.S. Travel Association, the Washington, D.C.-based organization representing all segments of travel in America, says, “Gays lead, and the rest follow. They’re adventurous and like new experiences. They have a penchant for travel far greater than their heterosexual counterparts. They travel more and spend more when they travel. They’re the darlings of the travel industry when it comes to spending and dollars.

“There are a lot of new areas travelers are going to explore,” he continues. “And the gay community will be there first.”

Each year U.S. Travel sponsors National Travel and Tourism Week, celebrating the value travel holds for our economy, businesses and personal well-being. Recognizing the Power of Travel, this year’s NTTW takes place May 2-8 across the U.S. There’s no better time to highlight the unique, unheralded role the LGBTQ community plays in powering travel, especially in times of great crisis.

Recent history has demonstrated that LGBTQ travelers — especially those in dual-income-no-child households — are always among the first to travel after social and economic crises. Following 9/11 and again after the 2008/2009 financial crisis, destinations, hospitality companies and travel brands noticed that LGBTQ travelers were prioritizing tourism over other purchase decisions, helping fill airplanes, hotels and restaurants and animating destinations. So, they began to market to this segment in earnest. Smart travel marketers will note that this is happening again now. We see — anecdotally and with the support of research by Community Marketing, Inc., Harris Interactive and IGLTA — that this segment travels in higher proportions and intends to book and execute travel in greater proportions than their non-LGBTQ counterparts.

The Power of LGBTQ Travel

Absent the onerous obligations of rearing and educating children, queer travelers tend to have more disposable income and time to spend it, helping fill destinations and hotels, especially during the quieter periods when kids are in school. Being among the first to travel safely, this resilient segment grants permission to others that they can return to travel safely. The LGBTQ segment has always been disproportionately present in online platforms, which provide a safer way to meet and interact with others in an otherwise potentially anti-LGBTQ world. They also help achieve travel marketers’ goals by experiencing more, creating social media content and generating buzz.

The segment displays intense loyalty to brands that welcome and include them. There are also surprising halo effects: By signaling welcome to this group, marketers send a sign of inclusiveness to other overlooked and marginalized segments, like Black and LatinX travelers, and the family and friends of queer people are also positively motivated by outreach to LGBTQ people.

Finally, these messages resonate strongly with millennial and Gen Z audiences who plan their travel — as well as plot their careers — to destinations and at hospitality brands whose missions align with their more inclusive values.   

The segment has also demonstrated a strong affinity for cruises of all sorts, including all-gay or all-lesbian cruises, LGBTQ groups on mainstream cruises, and simply joining mainstream cruises as a same-sex couple or in small friend groups. While cruise vacations are still on a pandemic-induced pause in the U.S., cruise companies — including Carnival, Celebrity, Cunard, Uniworld and the brand-new Virgin Voyages — have all firmly established LGBTQ travelers as a core segment.

“National Travel and Tourism Week takes on special significance this year as we look ahead to recovery following the most challenging year this industry has experienced,” says Christine Duffy, president of Carnival Cruise Line and national chair of the U.S. Travel Association. “Across the country, we are recognizing travel’s value, and the long-standing support of the LGBTQ community will help accelerate our rebound. I know that for Carnival, we pride ourselves on an inclusive atmosphere where every guest is appreciated, and we look forward to welcoming them back as soon as possible.”

Travel safety experts

One reason queer travelers are uniquely suited to help power the return of travel during this crisis has to do with their decades of experience living under the ever-looming shadow of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, during which they learned the importance of risk mitigation for the good of all. Wearing masks to protect yourself and others resonates with a community that understands the importance of condoms and pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP).

According to Randle Roper, co-founder and CEO of VACAYA Full-Ship and Full-Resort LGBT+ Vacations, “[Our] guests showed incredible resilience by traveling safely during the pandemic, and they proved they could adapt to live with health protocols that would keep each other and their loved ones back home safe.”

Travel safety is organically entwined with the LGBTQ community’s DNA. In 70+ countries, many popular with LGBTQ travelers, homosexuality is criminalized. That includes 11 countries in which death is the punishment meted out for those convicted of homosexuality and other “crimes” of sexual and gender non-conformity.

While travelers would be spared the harsh treatments locals may suffer, they nonetheless have a great deal to consider when traveling. Same-sex couples still receive awkward and uncomfortable service when checking into hotels with a single bed on the reservation or even simply existing in places where everyone’s assumed to be heterosexual. When a lesbian boards a plane with her legally-married wife and their legally adopted children, they could land in a destination where their marriage license is void and their legal guardianship of their kids is in question. Trans and non-binary travelers, especially those of color, may encounter challenges including lack of safe bathroom access, awkward encounters at TSA security and even outright hostility and worse in any public setting. In the face of all this, queer people still explore and have a lot to teach the rest of the world about how to travel with intent and joy while maintaining their own safety and that of the community around them.

LGBTQ travelers can also show the world how best to support the tourism and hospitality industries in ways that also strengthen their own communities. “LGBTQ consumers have the power to make change and support LGBTQ-friendly companies and destinations by choosing to spend their travel dollars with those that support our community,” says Jeff Guaracino, co-author of the Handbook of LGBT Tourism and Hospitality. “LGBTQ-owned hotels, bed and breakfasts, tour companies, bars and restaurants, festivals and destinations have been especially hard hit by COVID, and as a community, we can support LGBTQ-owned and friendly businesses and their employees by spending our travel dollars with them first.”

Insights from industry leaders

LGBTQ tour companies and travel agents have a direct connection to queer travelers and report strong interest in and bookings of travel. According to Robert Sharp, co-founder and CEO of Out Adventures, “After [releasing] our entire tour schedule through the end of 2022, we saw our largest month of sales in our 12-year history.”

Kelli Carpenter, co-founder of R Family Vacations, adds, “Our highest sales have come from our river cruise products and international tour business, showing that travelers are ready to explore the world again.”

VACAYA’s Roper has seen extremely robust sales over the past several months — including selling out their Antarctica Cruise. “With a starting price of around $25,000 per room, that was our best sign yet that our community members are ready to break free from their cages and return to travel,” he says.

Robert Geller, founder of FabStayz, agrees: “Pent-up demand is visible, palpable and quantifiable.”

Top 10 tips for marketers interested in the LGBTQ segment

You don’t have to be in the community to market to us, but you should do your homework. Here are a few tips. You can find much more insight in the Handbook of LGBT Tourism and Hospitality (co-authored by this reporter).

  • Understand your opportunities and challenges and your brand’s strengths and weaknesses with this segment.
  • Prepare for a sustained effort and financial investment.
  • Hire an expert; don’t burden an LGBTQ colleague.
  • Understand the needs, behaviors and concerns of this segment and avoid saying “Everyone is welcome” until you know that that’s true.
  • Apply marketing basics: Market the right product for the right segment at the right time.
  • Develop tailored content/social, communications strategies.
  • Don’t go it alone: Work with LGBTQ business leaders, ERGs.
  • Get buy-in from C-suite on down and avoid “the gay guy’s project” and losing institutional knowledge and continuity.
  • Advertise support of employees and the community during Pride in local LGBTQ publications (and support the media you want to cover your business), but focus most of your marketing the other 364 days of the year.
  • Educate employees, stakeholders and customer-facing teams on serving LGBTQ guests.

What to expect when you’re expecting queers

LGBTQ visitors and guests want the same thing as everyone else: a safe and fun visit. You have to know the challenges confronting LGBTQ travelers in order to treat them with the same excellent welcome you accord all. Follow this guidance from Billy Kolber, founder of HospitableMe, which helps organizations with strategy and actionable training that drive equity and inclusion. The most successful organizations embrace these practices:

  • Focus on community first, profit second. Activities that start with a profit motive often backfire. Ask yourself, “How can we make our product or experience better for diverse customers and support their needs and their community?”
  • Educate your people. You can’t provide authentic, personalized service if your team doesn’t understand who LGBTQ+ people are and feel comfortable engaging with them.
  • Drive diversity in your own organization. Having diverse voices in the rooms where decisions are made is the only way to effect durable change. Ask why they’re not in those rooms, and what you can do to help get them there.

About Ed Salvato
NYC-based Ed Salvato is a freelance travel writer, instructor at NYU and the University of Texas at Austin’s NYC Center, and an LGBTQ tourism marketing consultant.

Essential tips for your COVID-FREE travel

Must-know Advice for LGBTQ Travelers

By Jeff Guaracino

COVID-19 will make travel a bit more complicated this summer. Going to Europe? Taking a cruise? Visiting Hawaii, San Juan or St. Lucia? Or maybe you are planning a road trip? The rules for traveling responsibly during COVID vary greatly. Be ready to encounter a patchwork of confusing rules and requirements this summer. 

Depending on what you choose to do for your well-earned escape, it is going to be necessary to educate yourself on what to expect; how to travel by the rules; and be ready to prove you have a negative COVID-19 test (and it may cost you to prove it!). Trust, prepping for your trip in advance will pay off. Your health, safety, peace of mind and fun is an important part of the travel experience.  

Here are 5 essential tips for to ensure you have a fabulous summer getaway.

  1. Research before booking your trip. Before you book your trip, be sure to understand how COVID-19 has changed the experience. Nearly everything about travel has changed due to COVID-19. Hotels, airplanes, trains, theme parks, destinations and resorts have all have modified safety precautions in place. The good news is that you will likely find less crowds, more space and enhanced cleaning. You may also find limited services such as curfews with bars and restaurants closing early. A drive trip within the US likely will find less restrictions compared to an island trip.
  2. Make reservations and buy tickets in-advance. Before leaving for your trip, you should book your restaurant reservations and reserve your tickets to a museum or attraction. While you might not like having to plan out your vacation in advance, you will likely find it hard to do all the things you want to do by waiting. COVID-19 means capacity restrictions, so there is limited availability especially on weekends and during peak periods. You can always make changes when you are there.
  3. When flying give yourself extra time at the airport. Many stores and food establishments may still be closed or have limited service, so it will take longer to buy food and drink. Most airlines have also eliminated beverage and snack service in coach, so be ready to “Bring Your Own.”  If you are used to flying First Class, be ready for a curtailed (i.e. downgraded) experience as well.
  4. Stay at a trusted hotel. Staying at hotel is perhaps is one of the most important travel decisions you will make. Most hotels have developed respected cleaning protocols to keep you and their employees safe. Among the hotel industry’s leaders is The Four Seasons. The Four Seasons has developed “Lead With Care” that includes both obvious hotel guest protocols and enhanced procedures behind-the-scenes including employee trainings. The Four Seasons also developed an app that provides guests with the high-standard customer service the luxury chain is known for while providing guests with privacy and limiting interactions with the team. COVID-19 has increased the costs for many hotels so it is important to stay with a trusted brand that you can count on to deliver on the safety measures promised.
  5. Proof of a Negative COVID test. The most complicated and expensive part of COVID-free travel will be meeting a requirement, if needed, to prove you have a negative COVID test. Hawaii, San Juan, cruise ships and other travel experiences are requiring that travelers prove their COVID negative upon arrival at the destination or before starting your trip. Some destinations even require a mid-trip test to prove, again, that you are still COVID negative. Hawaii implemented a program that requires travelers to the islands to use a ‘trusted partner’ (so you can’t use any test and vaccinations are not accepted). You must create an account at travel.hawaii.gov, download an app, and submit results upon arrival from a COVID test within 72 hours of arrival from a trust partner. Coming from Philadelphia through Chicago, that means I had to order an expensive test from American Airlines that was sent to me by UPS, the test included a virtual call to prove my identity and a virtual assistant to show me how to properly take the nasal smear. Within a day of sending my test back via UPS, I had my results. I printed out my negative test, uploaded my results and also downloaded the QR code to my phone. Aloha! Are you negative? Mahalo. 

About Jeff Guaracino
Jeff Guaracino is the author of two books on LGBT travel, a syndicated travel columnist and an tourism executive with more than two decades in the industry. 

Getting Back Out Into the World Safely: Must-Know Advice For LGBTQ+ Travelers

A gay couple traveling and enjoy sunset outdoor, european city view with bridge and river

By Lawrence Ferber

As travel rebounds and some international borders open to US residents — especially, or exclusively, if you’re fully vaccinated — you’ll need to pack more than a suitcase to ensure safe trips during the pandemic’s latter days, and far beyond. 

After all, it’s not quite a COVID-free world yet, nor will it be for a while. (And yes, I’m death-staring at the self-destructive, reckless, stupid gays who traveled to dance parties and other superspreader events during the heights of the pandemic.)

Since the world packs travel hazards besides COVID-19, from accidents to dangerous local scum and villainy targeting queer tourists, here’s some dead serious and hunty advice and resources for LGBTQs to take into consideration. Bon safe voyage, bitches!

Get Insurance That Covers COVID-19 (and Yes, Your Hubby Too)

Before booking that flight, cruise, hotel or car rental, secure a travel insurance policy. Be sure it covers COVID-19 related calamities, including hospitalization and cancellations on either your end or that of the airline, cruise line, hotel, tour company, etc. (as many learned since March 2020, their policies did not). 

For several years before the pandemic hit, I took out an annual individual policy with Allianz (they’ve added COVID-19 benefits to some policies), which I made one claim on during early 2019 for a doctor’s visit in Singapore. The claims process was easy and paid out in a timely manner — a simple urgent-care illness situation that included medication.

When my husband joined me in Bangkok for just a week, I purchased a single trip policy from Travel Guard for him (which does not appear to cover COVID-19 as of now). LGBTQ-friendly insurance company Seven Corners, meanwhile, offers policies for both singles and same-sex couples, and can even ensure you stay together if a medical Evac is required for one partner: check out the video about clients Daniel & Felipe on their LGBTQ landing page. Seven Corners also offers policies covering COVID-19. Lastly, if you have homeowners’ insurance, inquire whether your personal property is covered against destruction or theft while traveling.

Suitcase with rainbow gay flag design travel concept.

Geotag the Shit Out of Everything!

Be sure to activate your phone, pad and laptop’s geolocation features. Worst-case scenario, you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that your iPhone’s been stolen if it’s suddenly five miles away from where you last left it on a table and can deactivate the device (also, though: don’t leave your iPhone on a table).

I’ve learned it’s an all-too-common practice for airlines to take bags off planes pre-departure if the vessel’s too weight-heavy or may excessively tax its fuel supply. They won’t always confess yours lost the lottery and where it’s chilling out, but Apple’s new tracking device, AirTag, will essentially spill the tea.

Know the LGBTQ+ Laws of the Land

Homosexuality is still illegal and even punishable by death in parts of the world. Some of these antigay laws entail toothless legislative holdovers, like Singapore’s Penal Code Section 377A, which remains on the books despite ongoing legal challenges and an open, even thriving local gay scene (and entertainers like “Drag Race Thailand” queen Vanda Miss Joaquim).

As of April 2021, countries with death penalty on the books for same-sex relations include Iran, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Northwest Africa’s Mauritania, Nigeria, Somalia, Yemen, and the United Arab Emirates.

Beyond the personal safety issue, there’s also the question of whether to spend money in places inhospitable to LGBTQs either socially or politically, like transphobic Arkansas, Jamaica and hateful-assed Poland, which continues to piss off the rest of the European Union with its never-ending conveyor belt of antigay and anti-semitic bullshit.

I’ll admit, I like visiting Poland. I’m part Polish, although you’d never tell by looking at me. But one night, casually taking photos in a Kraków gay bar, a young gay Pole lunged at me from across the room (he actually dove underneath a table, like a submarine missile, to make a straight beeline), asking why I was shooting in his direction, both enraged and terrified. That was the last photo I took in a gay space. Alternately, to some, traveling to these places is a form of activism, visibility being a necessary part of change, while also supporting the local LGBTQ+ businesses and community.

Human Rights Watch maintains a series of online maps of countries with anti-LGBTQ+ and anti-gender expression laws, plus those with age of consent disparities between same-sex versus heterosexual individuals. It’s worth a look. So is travel bloggers Asher & Lyric’s whopping 150-country list of best and worst countries for LGBTQ+ travel in 2021, while our own U.S. State Department boasts a fantastic information and resource page for LGBTI international travelers. There, you can find safety tips, how to reach U.S. Embassies and Consulates while abroad (“Consular officers will protect your privacy and will not make generalizations, assumptions, or pass judgment,” it promises) and a TSA info page for Transgender Passengers.

Google Where Youre Going Before Booking Tickets

Googling your destination and “antigay” could produce up-to-the minute news developments that may inform your plans. A Molotov cocktail attack on a Laguna Beach, California gay bar in mid 2020, for example, is a pretty clear “maybe not right now.”

Egypt has long entailed an LGBTQ+ traveler’s fave, but the past few years saw an increase of disturbing antigay and anti-trans violence, harassment and detainment by the police. Largely Islamic Indonesia keeps seeing waves of political crackdowns on and vilification of queers — including raids of Jakarta bathhouses and, just this past August, a private gay party — while Indonesia’s Aceh province is ruled by Sharia law and sees public lashings and life-destroying shamings (plus, this border-crossing cyber hate campaign bullshit). Indonesia’s island of Bali, however, is extremely LGBTQ-positive and tolerant, and not informed by hateful fundamentalism. Go there, henny!

Show Respect and Be Smart About PDAs

Life isn’t always a gay cruise or a strut down Santa Monica Boulevard. In some cultures, PDAs between people of any gender or sexual identity are completely frowned upon and offensive, so look that up and, even better, look around you once you arrive. Watch (nonchalantly, not in some creepy way) how locals behave before indulging in PDAs (don’t be surprised to see men affectionately holding hands like “Sex and the City” girlfriends in Arab countries or India; it’s a cultural norm, despite the homophobia). Conversely, if you’re in a known gayborhood like Tokyo’s Shinjuku Ni-chome or Mexico City’s Zona Rosa, live out loud and flash those conservative locals the gayest smile you can. 

Back Up Critical Documents and Send to a Cloud Service

I’ve never been pickpocketed (and probably jinxed myself writing that), but if this ever happens or you misplace important documents, a wallet, etc., have copies ready in the cloud, including booking numbers and, of course, travel insurance policy. iCloud, DropBox, whatever — just be sure it’s an encrypted service. Now you can more easily request replacements and access important numbers to cancel credit cards. 

If you’re legally married or partnered, also have copies and cloud backups of your marriage license and anything related to power of attorney and medical access. Especially here in the good ol’ freedom-y USA, some nosy “Christian” nurse in an Arkansas or Texas hospital may attempt to refuse a same-sex spouse access to a hospital unless you’re packing legal documents and a winnable lawsuit.

Dont Let Your Lube Spill All Over Your Suitcase Like Mine Did

Ask me about the time the large bottle of Swiss Army silicon lube, which I had previously opened and used some of, burst inside my suitcase en route to Thailand, where I discovered that silicon lube isn’t even available (the good news: three cycles through the laundry and the stains were out of my shirts). Bring new, unopened bottles of your favorite lube(s), pack them in a couple of ziplock bags and a large padded envelope, and make sure they — and any liquid for that matter — aren’t too tightly pressured by all your other stuff.  

If you have preferred brands of condom, bring those too. In some countries, condom brands and sizes can be very different from ones available in the US — just like clothing. You’ll be hard pressed to find anything like an XL-sized Magnum in Japan. “Foreigners definitely think that Japanese brands in general are too small,” admits Andrew Pugsley, a gay Tokyo-based Canadian expat whose excellent gay vlog Tokyo BTM is chock full of insider deets on the culture, city and queer nightlife. 

Japanese condoms are also supremely thin — all the way down to .01 millimeter, which is basically like wearing thick air — which some may appreciate (and take home in mass quantities, just sayin’), but others find less assuring than Lifestyles or Trojans and hard to roll down without tearing. And yes, I’ve conducted many experiments for the sake of “research.” 

Watch Out For The Catfishand Sharks

It can happen anywhere in the world, including home, but apps and hookup sites are swimming with scam artists and bad news freaks. In some countries, apps are used by homophobes and zealous antigay police to entrap, jail and torture LGBTQs. In other cases, you could get robbed, especially in second and third world countries where first world tourists represent an easy, even deserving in their eyes, mark.

If you do meet someone online, take precautions. In countries where locals target tourists, five-star hotels will often require visitors leave their ID at the front desk and won’t allow them to retrieve it and leave until you give a sign-off by phone. If someone refuses to visit your five-star hotel (especially if they use the, “I don’t like hotels because they’ll treat me like I’m a prostitute” excuse), that’s a red flag. And if you do have a new “friend” over, put those valuables in the safe first. 

Always Keep Your Medications On You (But Not Recreational Drugs)

Don’t put your PrEP in check-in luggage. I repeat: Do not put your PrEP in check-in luggage. Ever. If it’s medication you need daily, you’re risking missed doses should that bag get lost (or purposely purged from the plane to lighten its load: see above), and worse, if the drug isn’t readily available where you’re headed. Keep them in your carry-on only! 

Also, for fuck’s sake, don’t bring recreational drugs into a country where you can go to jail for it. It’s a really wise use of 60 seconds on Google to look that up, because tourists will not be treated with leniency. It’s a lesson you don’t want to learn. 


About Lawrence Ferber
NY-raised entertainment and travel journalist Lawrence Ferber has contributed to publications including Entertainment Weekly, New York Magazine, National Geographic Traveler, The Advocate, NewNowNext, The NY Post and TripSavvy. He also co-wrote/co-created the 2010 gay romcom “BearCity” and authored its 2013 novelization.

Press Release: LGBT Media to boycott Georgia

Date: April 9, 2021
National LGBT Media Association
Contact: Leo Cusimano
214-754-8710 ext. 114
[email protected]

Press Release

For immediate release

LGBT Media to boycott Georgia

The National LGBT Media Association (NGMA), composed of the 12 largest LGBT publications in the nation, passed a resolution banning meeting in the state of Georgia. 

The nation’s largest LGBT media association today resolved to not hold any of its future meetings in the State of Georgia due to the recent passage of draconian voter suppression laws which primarily affect communities of color.

We in the LGBT community built a movement fighting for equality, and we stand with those who fight this “Jim Crow, Part 2” legislation in order to make their voice heard and their vote count. Too many people in power wish to keep marginalized communities invisible and without proper representation in government, and we must be vigilant in fighting against their unjust and unfair discrimination.

“With these laws, it is now easier to get a gun in Georgia than to vote.” said Leo Cusimano, cochair of NGMA. NGMA and its members, which include members in Georgia, will be boycotting all future meetings in the state until it creates fair election laws that ensure all people have equal and fair access to vote.

NGMA members are in: New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Washington DC, Dallas/Fort Worth, Atlanta, Ft. Lauderdale/Miami, Orlando/Tampa, Detroit, Boston and Chicago. 

For more information, please contact Mark Segal, 215-925-6626 or visit our website at nationallgbtmediaassociation.com.

Here is more information on the National LGBT Media Association

The National LGBT Media Association is the association of the top LGBT regional newspapers in the U.S. The 12 legacy publications hit all major LGBT markets and serve as the publications of record for their demographic area. The LGBT market is still largely untapped by brands looking to continuously and consciously commit to supporting our community. The team at NGMA has been on the front-lines of advocating for the LGBT community for decades. Over the years, they’ve solidified their roles in the community as trusted leaders. Together, they help to curate content, advocate for LGBT rights, and speak up for this often-ignored or often-discriminated-against community. Their readership is dedicated, loyal and consistently engaged across all 12 NGMA publications.

  • Bay Area Reporter, San Francisco
  • Philadelphia Gay News, Philadelphia 
  • Bay Windows, Boston
  • Los Angeles Blade, Los Angeles 
  • Between the Lines, Detroit
  • South Florida Gay News, Fort Lauderdale/Miami
  • Dallas Voice, Dallas/Fort Worth 
  • Washington Blade, Washington DC
  • Gay City News, New York City
  • Watermark, Tampa/Orlando/St. Pete
  • Georgia Voice, Atlanta
  • Windy City Times, Chicago

# # #

Visit us: www.nationallgbtmediaassociation.com  |  212-242-6863