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ITTFA Comment on… Gay Travel Boom Predicted

Young, affluent and adventurous travellers are a target market for many tourism destinations worldwide, but few have any strategy to target gays and lesbians who form a significant part of this group.

Research shows that most gays earn more than average and have high disposable income, and many are likely to choose destinations they perceive as gay-friendly. Established destinations in Europe include Gran Canaria, Ibiza and Sitges in Spain and Mykonos in Greece, while long-haul destinations include Australia, Thailand and South Africa.

The exhibitions industry is now showing interest, and World Travel Market in London in November staged a debate on the gay market. This came just before a change in British law, with the Civil Partnership Act giving same sex partners legal rights never enjoyed before.

Gay marriages are legal in Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain and Canada. Britain has stopped short of gay marriage, but the new civil partnership law is being celebrated with ceremonies and honeymoons by a large number of couples.

Out Now Consulting, a marketing agency specialising in the gay and lesbian market, has undertaken extensive research in Britain and also works in several other European countries.

Director Ian Johnson says: “There are nearly three million lesbians and gays in the UK and more than half of them are in committed relationships, with a large number intending to register their Civil Partnerships. A total of 274,000 couples in the UK are expected to get have ceremonies, which means that gay honeymoons are going to be booming.”

Out Now Consulting has worked for more than 15 years to develop the gay market for organisations including Qantas, Visit Britain, the German National Tourist Office and South African Tourism.

Britain is the biggest market, then France and with Germany a distant third,” adds Johnson. “The Netherlands is also important, and here we have run campaigns for Lufthansa with same sex imagery.

“Staff training is very important for organisations wanting to develop the gay market. Unless customers feel welcome, a marketing campaign won`t amount to much.”

Fiona Jeffery, group exhibition director of World Travel Market , says:“There`s no doubt that this will trigger a new and completely different demand for tour operators. Despite famous partnerships planning ceremonies such as Elton John and David Furnish, the travel industry is not ready for this market.

“Operators need to understand the gay market if they are to profit from it. Exhibitions could play an important role in focusing on new and emerging markets, and integrating them into the mainstream.”

Johan Lundberg, director of the TUR travel exhibition in Sweden, agrees that this is an emerging market.

“Gay and lesbian rights are very much discussed in Sweden, and more and more cities are organising gay events such as Stockholm Pride held every summer,” he says.

“This market group is becoming bigger and they also like to spend more money. I am sure this will be an important group of travellers that we will see much more of in the future.”

If anyone doubts the importance of the gay market, watch out for coverage of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras which culminates on March 4. Last year`s parade was watched by half a million and 19,000 attended the party, many travelling from all over the world.