Picture: REUTERS
Picture: REUTERS

Tour operators, take note: the Second Global Report on LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) Tourism, produced in partnership by the UN World Tourism Organisation and the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association, states that "this dynamic segment has proven its capacity to become a powerful vehicle for economic development".

For travel writer and content creator Mark Chesnut there are many exciting trends and tactics businesses can use to reach a demographic that the World Travel Market estimated to be worth more than $211bn in 2016.

"My first tip is to forget that these travellers are LGBT, for just a moment," he says. "As we know, these travellers are incredibly diverse, just like the so-called ‘mainstream’ market.

"This means that in order to successfully target LGBT travellers, you’ve got to consider the diverse market segments within that niche. You can have single travellers or families with kids. You can have upscale travellers or budget travellers. You can have senior travellers or young travellers, with all ethnicities and nationalities in between.

"So you need to determine which of these subgroups within the larger group your audience is and determine what works best to reach them."

An especially effective way for tourism organisations or travel-related companies to show love for LGBT travellers is to integrate the segment into their marketing and advertising efforts. This means, for example, using traditional publications and television networks instead of only focusing on LGBT-specific channels and sites.

"To be successful you need to know your media and broaden your perspective on how to reach these travellers," Chesnut says.

"There are lots of different platforms out there to carry your message so do your research," he says. "Which ones do your current clients use? Which ones do your dream customers use? How can you use those media outlets, platforms and social media channels to transmit your message? If you’re a small business, you can even do informal surveys of your guests or of your clients to keep your finger on the pulse of what they’re using."

While some countries have limited LGBT-specific outlets, Chesnut says it’s easier than before to connect with these travellers because of websites and social media pages reaching across the globe.

Using targeted hashtags on platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram can help travel businesses. Additionally, creating content in the language of the desired market can improve engagement.

"There are always new ways to reach your audience, but custom content is a big one," he says. "You may know it as branded content, sponsored content or integrated media — there are a tonne of different names — but it’s used heavily now by a lot of advertisers."

The key is to offer content that’s useful and not just promotional. It’s about understanding what travellers need (essential information, news and trends) and want (cool visuals, shareable moments and fun tips) and giving this to them, even if it isn’t directly related to products and services.

A big area of opportunity comes from same-sex marriage, first legalised in the Netherlands in 2001 and now recognised in about two dozen countries worldwide

"Providing valuable resources is another way to engage travellers," Chesnut says. "So don’t be afraid to create content and share stuff that’s just plain helpful or just plain entertaining.

"You may have a small hotel with limited services and little budget but that’s no reason why you can’t also share some general travel tips for the city where you’re located. Showcase your knowledge and expertise by helping travellers have a better overall experience and they will love you for it."

A big area of opportunity comes from same-sex marriage, first legalised in the Netherlands in 2001 and now recognised in about two dozen countries worldwide.

Chesnut says this is a reason to celebrate; not just for the promotion and acceptance of LGBT rights but also because, with the global wedding industry estimated to be worth $300bn, it means the travel industry can create more customised offerings.

"When something happens like same-sex marriage being legalised it opens up a sudden rush of interest and opportunity for people in the travel industry," he says.

"So I’m sure in Australia there’s going to be a lot of interest from people around the world tying the knot, similar to how it’s been happening in other countries."

While SA legalised gay marriage in 2006 — it was the fifth country in the world to do so and remains the only one on the continent that allows it — there is still much opportunity for more tailored packages for LGBT weddings and honeymoons. Chesnut recommends travel providers start by analysing the market and understanding their positioning within the segment.

"If you’re a tour operator or a wedding organiser or a hotel that wants to attract LGBT brides and grooms, first identify what your role would be and how you can serve that market," he says.

"You want to show your expertise in the market and your respect for that segment. And be creative. I’ve seen some advertising and custom content that’s boring… Getting married and going on honeymoon is a big event in anyone’s life so capture the excitement and put it out there via social media or your website."

Instead of only targeting LGBT travellers, Chesnut advises appealing to travel agents and tour operators too. And beyond the travel and tourism industry, he says there are opportunities for businesses to capitalise on the growth of the LGBT market.

Knysna opens its doors to visitors during the annual Pink Loerie Mardi Gras and there are companies that are proud to position themselves as gay-friendly and can see great benefits in it.

"Travellers have a greater choice out there and they’re going to make their choices based on a variety of factors," Chesnut says. "Also, by patronising LGBT-friendly businesses you can support causes that you care about.

"And that’s something that applies to every traveller, doesn’t it? It’s a big reason why it’s a good idea to share what you as a business do in the community."