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Q&A: John Tanzella Discusses Marketing, Destination Considerations for LGBT Travelers

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The International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association (IGLTA) is an extensive global network of LGBTQ-welcoming tourism businesses including accommodations, tour operators, destinations, travel agents, media, and more. The organization houses a wealth of resources and hosts an annual convention (9-12 May in Toronto, Ontario) with networking and marketplace opportunities for tourism professionals interested in offering inclusive services for this specific group of travelers. President and CEO of IGLTA John Tanzella gave the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) insight on a few things that go a long way in making LGBTQ travelers feel welcome on adventure travel experiences.

IGLTA’s CEO and president, John Tanzella.

ATTA: What type of organization is the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association, and what is its mission? How many members belong to IGLTA?

Tanzella: IGLTA is the leading member-based organization dedicated to LGBTQ tourism. The association, which was founded in 1983, provides information and resources for LGBTQ travelers and promotes equality and safety within the global tourism industry. IGLTA has more than 1,000 member businesses in approximately 80 countries.

ATTA: What should adventure tour operators know about marketing for LGBTQ travelers?

Tanzella: Remember that LGBTQ travelers are not so different from all other travelers in that they represent a diverse group of interests. There’s no such thing as one-size-fits-all marketing for the LGBTQ community. What’s important is to be inclusive in marketing efforts. Even if you’re not offering an all-gay product, incorporate images of same-sex couples and/or LGBTQ groups of friends into the overall marketing campaign to send a welcoming message, and use gender-neutral language in your materials.

It’s also essential to think about the destinations themselves, because some places that appeal to a sense of adventure actively encourage homophobia.

ATTA: Are there any destinations that stand out as being particularly unfriendly toward LGBTQ travelers? What should adventure tour operators know about working in these destinations with this demographic?

Tanzella: There are actually 72 countries where gay relationships are still criminalized! The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, and Intersex Association maintains a map of sexual orientation laws around the world that is a great resource. Tour operators need to be aware of the laws so they can keep their clients informed.

You will find some LGBTQ travelers that absolutely will not visit these destinations and others that refuse to allow their orientation to influence where they travel. It’s a very personal choice.

ATTA: What considerations should tour operators be aware of in regard to ensuring all clients feel safe and welcome, both before and during an adventure tour offering?

Tanzella: In addition to providing clients with advance information about the laws, tour operators should create a dialogue with their suppliers — such as hotels and guides — to ensure they’re welcoming of LGBTQ guests even if the country is not.

Accommodations are probably where the most problems occur; we often see hotels give two single beds to same-sex couples. But this can be avoided at booking if a tour operator is willing to openly discuss clients’ needs and choose a different property if they aren’t met with a positive reaction.

ATTA: Can you provide examples of tour operators that do a particularly excellent job of catering to the LGBTQ community? What makes their offerings stand out?

Tanzella: Visit our website search by “tour operator.” Our members have made a commitment to treating all travelers with respect. You’ll also find many tour operators that are LGBTQ-owned (look for the badge on their IGLTA member listing) and/or offer all-gay group travel.

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