The world of travel writers, journalists and travel bloggers is ever-changing. So how do public relations & media relations experts in the travel industry deal with them?
Speaking at the 15th Conference on LGBT Tourism and Hospitality at the Bellagio hotel in Las Vegas, I addressed this issue. The video here -- and the text below -- is the second installment of my presentation, specifically about what travel writers need from public relations people -- and what goes into making the perfect press and media section on a website.
A big part of securing ongoing coverage is about relationships. Journalists and travel writers need to know who you are, and you need to know who they are. If you have a personal connection -- even if it's just via e-mail interactions -- that's a great way to cement your brand further in their minds.
To do this, it helps to know what we -- the writers -- want and need from you.
What Do Travel Writers Want From Public Relations People?
Before I tell you my opinion, based on my experience as a writer, journalist and blogger, let's hear from some of my friends on the public relations side. Veronica Villegas, senior account executive and International Director at Cheryl Andrews Marketing Communications in Coral Gables, Florida, says this:
Freelancers, bloggers, vloggers, influencers are all the norm nowadays, and their needs are all different. The strategy is giving them each what they need. A traditional journalist could write a story from a press release, but nowadays, it has to be more than that. We have to be able to provide an authentic story-telling experience that can be shared. Messages today have to be more concise, and listicles have become popular. They are easy and provide the 'whys.'
Now there's a vocabulary word for you if you don't know it already: a listicle is basically a list that has enough copy to run as an article.
But how do you compare the different types of writers? Is there a difference between what traditional journalists want and what bloggers want? I can tell you, as someone who writes for traditional editorial media outlets as well as for blogs, that there is increasingly less difference.
Veronica adds the following:
There is some overlap when providing content, news and images. Traditional journalists typically want to use resources (through interviews) to authenticate their stories. On the other hand bloggers, vloggers, social media and influencers want to experience it for themselves, so you have to provide that access to them. Sometimes, the hard part is not so much distinguishing the difference between all of the online media opportunities and messaging, it's convincing the client that social media outlets are important. And they are very important, because you can often reach your audience directly.
Rose Capasso, account manager at Carolyn Izzo Integrated Communications in Nyack, NY, says that her way of communicating with writers, journalists and bloggers has evolved:
Over the years, my approach has become much less formal. I find that traditional journalists -- much like the bloggers I've been working with in recent years -- appreciate a short, targeted note as opposed to a longer, more formal pitch. I don't think anyone likes to feel as if they are being pitched, but rather respond better to a note that says 'Hi there, I thought this might be of interest to you.'
I'd like to add a bit more about what we journalists and bloggers look for. Here's a quick list of things that attract our attention:
• Hot trends
• Useful information
• Real news
• Cool visuals
• Offbeat stories
• Unique experiences
• Shareable moments
So how do you create shareable moments -- the things that appear on social media and get passed around?
Here's what Karla Visconti, director of corporate communications for the Caribbean and Latin America at Hilton Worldwide, has to say:
We try to look at trends and angles that will interest readers, doing what we can to move away from solely promoting offers and services, and looking at ways to deliver more authentic and creative elements. For example, for the holidays, instead of sending out a press release about our holiday offers, we share holiday cocktail recipes that readers can recreate at home, and personalize them with the name and face of the creator.
That tactic definitely worked on me -- I've run cocktail recipes from Hilton on my travel site, LatinFlyer.com, including a photo of a rather hunky bartender!
This is the kind of content that attracts attention because it's info that people can use even if they're not traveling to your destination right away. It's a way to get your brand into their minds.
Karla also notes the importance of providing ideas for "larger" stories that transcend just one hotel or destination, as well as the need for multimedia resources -- with the ability to provide photos, video and social media-friendly content.
Here's more of Karla's insight:
We find that larger mainstream publications seek larger stories, trends, an angle that's larger than one hotel. Those looking for offers want real savings and demonstrated value, whereas before, many looked for creative packages or offers with interesting elements; it seems today it's more about simplifying and showing value to the consumer. The other change we are seeing is the need for multimedia resources, i.e. not just a press release, but content with a story, complemented by photos, videos, social media access, etc.
Here's another thing that I like: A great Website that's journalist-friendly and useful for journalists and bloggers.
Here's are seven things that make a website useful for travel writers:
1. A separate press section: Don't make journalists jump through hoops when they want to give you free publicity. Maintain a press section on your site, even if it's just one page. That's the place for news updates, press releases, factoids, story angles and interesting tidbits that could spark a story. And don't forget to include a phone number and e-mail for reporters to get more information. A well-planned online press section can work wonders for even the smallest business, serving as an automatic publicist.
2. Easy-to-find information: You should have a friendly little place to click that says "Press Relations," "Media Center" or something similar. If you have a completely separate Website (with a different URL) that serves as your online newsroom, include easy-to-find links throughout your main Website.
3. Up-to-date information: Press releases and news should be organized in chronological order, with the newest first (and be sure each release has the date it was issued).
4. No forced forms: Don't force journalists to register to access the press section. You can offer them an automated form where they can register to be placed on your mailing list -- but don't make that mandatory.
5. A real, live human being: Include a contact name (a real person), a phone number, e-mail and the address of your organization. A "submit" form for questions is not sufficient, as often journalists need to speak by phone, or send an e-mail from their own e-mail address.
6. The ability to search: Include a search feature within the newsroom or for the site overall. This way, journalists can find the specific information they need.
7. Great visuals: Include a section with low-resolution stock images -- and perhaps video too -- depicting your product, destination or service. Be ready to respond promptly to requests for higher-resolution versions for publication (you can include watermark on each low-res image with your copyright to protect against misuse, but the high resolution images must be watermark-free).
In future posts, I'll address how to plan the perfect press...
The world of travel writers, journalists and travel bloggers is ever-changing. So how do public relations & media relations experts in the travel industry deal with them?
Speaking at the 15th Conference on LGBT Tourism & Hospitality at the Bellagio hotel in Las Vegas, I addressed this issue. The video here -- and the text below -- is the first installment of my presentation, specifically about the evolution of travel writers, journalists and travel blogs.
When I started as a travel writer, editor and custom content back in 1994, things were pretty simple. The goal for every hotel, every destination, every tour operator was to get into print, as often as possible and in the magazines and newspapers with the biggest circulations and the best-known names.
And we travel writers were pretty easy to figure out too. We liked free food and free press trips. Free booze was pretty high up there too.
But times have changed. Sure, we travel writers still like the free stuff. But media and strategies have changed -- a lot. Your travel business or destination may get a bigger bump from a blog you've never heard of, or a well-connected social media person, than from the best-known magazine on the newsstand.
Writers and editorial content are more splintered and specialized than ever before. And -- as magazines and newspapers have shrunk and the Internet has grown -- there are more freelance writers, bloggers, videographers and content producers than ever before.
So how do you deal with all these people?
What's the Difference Between Travel Writers?
Let's start with a basic question: What, exactly, is the difference between a journalist who covers travel and a travel writer? The answer, nowadays, is that are is increasingly little difference between these job descriptions and what each type of writer looks for. Why? Because lines have been blurred.
Consider this: Every magazine has a Website. Some have exclusive, web-only content, and perhaps their own blogs, in addition to their print copy. Many freelance journalists -- like me -- contribute regularly to print media but also write Web-only copy, even as we maintain a busy social media presence and operate our own blogs. (In my case, my site is called LatinFlyer.com, and it focuses on travel to Latin America.)
The good news is that this diversification actually can provide added value and opportunities for your organization. Writers know how to do a lot more things today -- and many of us work seven days a week to get our messages out to various audiences.
How to Find the Best Travel Writers and Bloggers
So how do you find the right people to help you get your message out to the public?
Often, journalists and writers will find you. But sometimes, you'll want to find them as well, to make sure you're reaching the right audiences.
To check out print and traditional journalists, you can pay to use services like Cision.com, a site that provides influencer identification with a media database that uncovers your audience's biggest influencers.
Take note of that word I just used. "Influencer," in fact is a term you hear lots nowadays. These are the people -- writers, bloggers, social media types -- who are good at building high-quality followings and influencing their followers' decisions. In our case, these are the people who publish and post a lot about travel, and help other people to make up their minds about what they want to do when they travel.
If bloggers and social media are a major part of your strategy, you might want to try joining and attending TBEX, the Travel Bloggers Exchange. Their annual conventions -- which take place in Asia, North America and Europe -- attract some of the most active travel bloggers, with workshops, presentations and the chance to network.
What's the Big Deal About Blogs?
Aren't some of those sites run by crazy people sitting alone in their bedrooms?
As someone who often runs my blog while sitting alone in my bedroom, I can say YES.
But that doesn't mean that the blogosphere shouldn't be on your radar.
Cision recently published an article based on the 2013 Digital Influence Report that says that blogs rank high with consumers for trust, popularity and influence.
The downside, according to the Cision article, is that the rapid growth of the blogosphere has made it more difficult for people to measure the value of blog posts.
So how do you determine if a travel blog is what you should be targeting with your message?
What to Look For in Travel Blogs and Travel Bloggers
The world is filled with lots of travel blogs, and lots of travel bloggers. So what should you look for to make sure they fit your goals?
Two important factors that you'll want to compare and weigh are quality and quantity. In other words, a blog with two million followers sounds impressive -- but it doesn't mean much if the quality of the content is bad, or if none of those readers ever buy travel and aren't interested in what you're selling.
That's why it's good to focus tightly on blogs that speak to your audience and potential customers. My site, for example, focuses specifically on travel to and around Latin America -- so you know that people who visit the site are motivated travelers interested in that region. And there are lots of other tightly focused travel blogs and travel Websites out there.
Let's say that you get contacted out of the blue by a random blogger who wants to give you some coverage. How do you decide if it's worth it?
One of my good friends on the public relations side of things is Karla Visconti. She's the director of corporate communications for the Caribbean and Latin America at Hilton Worldwide. And here's what she does to gauge the value of a blog:
"The first thing I do is visit the site. Look at the content, read some of the posts. Get a feel for the blog and audience. Then, I look at any social media channels they may have, to get an idea of the following and engagement levels. While I understand that the style and needs of a blogger may be different than that of traditional media, what I look for is similar: a vehicle that can reach my target audience with relevant and professional content. Also, we know blogs with images tend to attract more visitors, so we look for bloggers who are visually representing their work through photos to tell a story."
Another good friend of mine, Veronica Villegas, is senior account executive and International Director at Cheryl Andrews Marketing Communications in Coral Gables, Florida. She works with the Costa Rica Tourism Board, and in the past has handled media relations for InterContinental Hotels Group.
Here's what she does when she's contacted by a blogger she doesn't know:
"I go to their blog and scope it out and see if it's a good fit for the client. I also look them up on Facebook, compete.com, LinkedIn, Vocus and finally I Google to see recent works."
There are a lot of factors to consider, Veronica says, including the following:
• Who is the journalists/blogger's audience?
• Does the journalist/blogger have good content and images?
• When was the last day of activity?
• Also, no one wants to be listed or written about on a site that looks dated. Is there an active following? Is there engagement?
I also got some good insight from a friend named Rose Capasso, who's an account manager at Carolyn Izzo Integrated Communications in Nyack, NY. Her company has major clients including the Los Cabos Tourism Board and several top-notch hotels.
Here's what she does when she gets contacted by a unknown travel blogger:
"The first thing I do is check out their blog and recent posts. I try to understand what their voice or tone is, and how they like to cover destinations or hotels, since those are the majority of my clients. One of the things I look for in a blogger, personally, is someone whose coverage is positive but reliable and truthful. I don't expect someone's review to always be 'sunshine and rainbows,' but I am wary of bloggers who post negative reviews or have a snarky tone."
In addition, Rose does the following:
"Typically, we do some research to find out how many monthly visitors a blog tends to get, using analytical tools available via the web. But we also do our research to find out what are the top blogs in each vertical market (i.e. golf, weddings, luxury travel), so we have a good idea of what blogs and bloggers are most relevant and credible. We also work off of recommendations - if we have worked with a really great blogger, we like to ask for his/her recommendation of other bloggers whom they've worked with, traveled with, who they read, etc."
Social media is also important to consider, Rose adds. Here's what she has to say:
"In terms of social media, the numbers game is always valuable -- number of followers, Klout score, etc. -- but we also look at the content and the amount of times someone shares or retweets. The quality of their followers is also important; quality over quantity is an important rule that clients don't always understand, but has proven time and time again to be the right choice in terms of coverage."
In a recent post on the TBEX website, William Bakker of Think! Social Media wrote about how destination management organizations measure the value of working with a blogger:
"It's not just the size of a blogger's audience that's important, but the likelihood of delivering a relevant, credible, and authentic message to their network. Passion speaks volumes. We need to believe that their message will influence a reader's travel decisions."
And that's a good thing to keep in mind.
In future posts, I'll address to to build relationships with travel writers, how to create a journalist-friendly website and how to plan the perfect press trip....
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During the recent New York Travel Festival, a travel conference and expo that takes place every year in New York City, I was invited to make two presentations: one for consumers and one for travel industry insiders. In the travel industry presentation, titled "Stop Thinking Gay: 7 Ways to Reach the New Gay Traveler," I highlighted how gay travel marketing has evolved, and what successful companies and destinations are doing to stay on top of this valuable market segment. Here is an excerpt from the presentation (you can also watch the video, which is a bit more detailed).
Gay travelers have evolved, and so has the way that travel organizations market to them. To get a clear picture about how to approach this valuable group of travelers (and I'm using the term "gay" interchangeably with "LGBT," or Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender), the first thing you need to do is to FORGET THAT THESE TRAVELERS ARE GAY. Clearing the slate will make it easier to take in these suggestions about how to market to them. (That's because, in a lot of ways, the LGBT market is just as multifaceted -- and similar in its basic interests -- as any other group of travelers.)
So how do you as a business, destination or organization reach this audience? Consider these seven tips:
1. Diversify. As we know, the LGBT market isn't one big homogenous group, especially nowadays. You need to think of all these niches within the niche, and determine which make sense for you to target: Men, women, families with kids, multi-ethnic groups, international travelers are just a few of the possibilities (you'll find more in the video).
2. Integrate. Gay travelers feel more comfortable than ever with their straight counterparts, and vice versa. If you're a gay-specific business, you might already be expanding your strategy to include the mainstream straight market. If you're a so-called "mainstream" company, you should start seriously thinking about including your gay marketing materials with your other content, if you haven't already.
Take a look at the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB). Last year, they integrated their LGBT campaign into their mainstream marketing efforts. They incorporated gay content into their TV campaigns. The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Association, meanwhile has taken a rather creative approach at integrating its advertising, with a new TV commercial that addresses several markets at once, with Vegas-style humor (you can see the full commercial in the video).
Lots of other destinations have upped the ante as well. Three Mexican destinations have made great strides in promoting themselves to the LGBT market. The most recent to join the effort is the Cancun CVB, which last year signed up with the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association.The Puerto Vallarta CVB already has a section on its Website proclaiming its gay-friendliness. And Mexico City's tourism site is especially detailed with gay travel information, including a 50-page gay travel guide, available in either English or Spanish, which you can download for free.
Another good case study is American Airlines. Search for the word "gay" on the American Airlines Website, and three topics pop up: consumer travel, workplace equality and employee resource groups. They make it easy for everyone to see that they're dedicated to the market, and also that they treat their employees equally.
On the accommodation front, Preferred Hotel Group -- which represents more than 650 independent hotels -- has integrated its Preferred Pride content into its main Website, and also moved much of its LGBT advertising into mainstream media. They recognize that gay travelers are just as likely to read Conde Nast Traveler or the New York Times as they are Out or The Advocate.
3. Expand Your Products & Campaigns. Marriott International is another major player that has broadened its LGBT marketing efforts, with a microsite accessible in five languages. Hilton has a campaign called "Stay Hilton. Go Out" -- and it's expanded to more than 460 hotel properties since debuting in 2012.
Or take a look again at Fort Lauderdale. They were one of the first U.S. cities to launch a gay-specific marketing campaign back in 1995, with a tiny budget of just $35,000 -- that was matched by an equal contribution from local gay hotels for a series of co-op ads.
Today, that budget has jumped to over $1 million a year. "17 years ago LGBT or gay was a niche market," according to Richard Gray, who's the LGBT director at the CVB. Now, he says, "it's now a full market in its own right." Last year, he says the city received 1.3 million LGBT visitors, who spent $1.5 BILLION dollars.
To keep that momentum going, Fort Lauderdale is diversifying its approach and finding new opportunities. They're focusing especially hard on building the gay meetings and sporting events market, according to Gray. Here's his reasoning: "We feel confident that if we can get groups, we will also secure them as leisure travelers."
4. Know Your Media. Be aware of how people are getting information about your business -- that should influence both how you advertise and how you stay on top of what your customers are saying about you.
That's one thing that guides Bill Boeddiker, the owner of Parker Guest House, which is a bed-and-breakfast in San Francisco's Castro district. He says that when his hotel opened in 1997, they advertised exclusively in gay and lesbian media -- like the Damron Guide and Spartacus.
Boedikker says that he still uses gay-specific sites like Gay Cities, Purple Roofs and GayTravel.com, but the main source of his business now is Google, TripAdvisor and BedandBreakfast.com -- which has also helped increase the percentage of straight guests he has.
San Francisco Travel is another organization that's moved away from some print vehicles, according to Lynn Bruni, the organization's vice president of marketing communications -- at the same time, they've also moved away from strictly "vertical media" buys -- that means they no longer target gay travelers solely through LGBT media. Although, they have partnered with Gaycities.com -- as well as California cities like Palm Springs and West Hollywood -- to create joint promotions that benefit all of the destinations.
5. Create Excitement & Shareable Moments. When it comes down to it, we all want a lot of the same things when it comes to travel. So you need to appeal to some pretty basic emotions to motivate gay travelers to spend their time and money with you.
Communicate the value of the experiences, and make it easy for people to share their excitement through social media -- even if they haven't taken the trip yet. Keep the conversation going.
Among the more memorable examples: Air New Zealand gained not only social media shares, but lots of press coverage with its gay- friendly activities. In 2008, the airline staged a special "Pink Flight" that flew passengers from San Francisco to the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras in Sydney, Australia. In 2013, on the same day that New Zealand's same-sex marriage law went into effect, the airline hosted a same-sex wedding in-flight. Jesse Tyler Ferguson, one of the stars of the TV show "Modern Family," was present for the ceremony.
The folks who run Marriott Residence Inns report success with their own publicity tactics. Last year, they named lesbian chef and television personality Cat Cora, as the chain's "Residence Mom of the Year," to help connect with traveling parents and families -- including same-sex couples.To drive home their point, last November, the hotel chain hosted its first-ever Twitter Party for LGBT parents traveling with kids. The company reports that their hash tag trended as one of the most popular that evening.
Tourisme Montreal has staged quirky LGBT tourism campaigns like its "Queer of the Year" contest, and even created its own Web series. The six-part series, "Montreal Boy: Some Strings Attached," debuted in April on LogoTV.com, in collaboration with Air Canada.
6. Provide Valuable Resources. I've been writing and managing custom content for years for various travel industry clients, from Orbitz and LAN Airlines, to the Mexico Tourism Board, various CVBs and hotels ranging from big chains to individual properties.
In addition to becoming more digital and oriented toward social, successful travel organizations are becoming subtler in the way they promote their destination, service or product.
You might call it custom content, native advertising or branded content, but the point is this: you'll often attract more people to your message if you package it with useful, compelling or cool information that they can use and share. Think beyond the self-promotional, and work with writers and social media experts who can help you create content that will get you noticed.
Preferred Hotel Group is among the newest entrants into this field; this year, they introduced the Preferred Pride blog, which provides insider travel tips and information about hotels, events and destinations in general.
7. Keep Your Eyes Open. You need to be on the lookout for the next big thing -- whether it's a new app to communicate with your customers, or a promising new niche within the LGBT market.
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During the recent New York Travel Festival, a travel conference and expo that takes place every year in New York City, I was invited to make two presentations: one for consumers and one for travel industry insiders. In the consumer presentation, titled "Why Gay Travel is Great for Straight People," I highlighted why gay travel experiences can enrich trips for straight people too. Here is an excerpt from the presentation (you can also watch the video, which is a bit more detailed).
Society is more integrated than ever. Gay people are more openly participating in so-called "mainstream" culture. And straight travelers have changed too. Heterosexual people are checking into gay-owned bed-and-breakfast hotels. They're having drinks at gay bars and joining gay tours and pride celebrations.
But why is gay travel great for straight people too?
The reasons why straight people are getting into gay travel are many. The most basic reasons tie in with why people love any kind of travel -- it's fun, it's exciting, it's a chance to discover new things in the world.
Here are five more reasons why gay travel is great for straight people:
1. Gay travel is fun, and it's comfortable.
My friend Tammy is a straight woman who's been on some rather gay vacations with her gay male friends in Provincetown, one of the most popular summer destinations for gay travelers in the northeast. When Tammy went there, she spent most of her time in gay venues, on the gay beach and with gay people, and she had a great time.
What does she like about the experience?
• One, she has gay friends. And she wants them to feel comfortable and safe.
• She likes the ambiance. She likes feeling comfortable as well, and being around open-minded people.
• She also likes the idea of going out dancing and just having fun, without worrying about getting hit on by guys when she just wants to be with her friends.
2. Gay travel can provide a quality experience, away from the usual touristy stuff.
My sister and her husband -- who are both in their 60s -- made the choice to stay at a gay-owned bed-and-breakfast on their upcoming trip to Scotland. They say it's for several reasons:
• The place got great reviews online. Whether gay or straight, always research before you decide!
• They like to be around people who are interested in a wide variety of topics.
• They're looking forward to getting travel advice from hotel staff about tours, dining and shopping that goes beyond the typical, mainstream touristy stuff.
Richard Gray, who's the LGBT director for the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau, described why some straight people love to experience the gay angle when they travel. "I think we [gay people] tend to go to fun, edgy places," he said. "There are a lot of straight people who go to a gay destination because they know what we like. They know we like good restaurants and good shopping and good nightlife. It's also about integration -- we're becoming more integrated."
3. Gay travel allows you to support the causes you care about.
Another reason to think gay is equality. Most people want equality nowadays, right? And we like to support businesses that support that. So when you see a giant travel company like American Airlines -- which not only targets gay travelers, but also talks about its equal treatment for LGBT employees -- you know you're patronizing companies that support causes that YOU support.
4. You can save money.
Yes, you can even save money when you patronize gay and gay-friendly businesses. An example: Rental car companies such as Budget, Avis & Enterprise allow you to add a spouse or domestic partner for free as a driver, when you rent in the United States. The domestic partner option was introduced to recognize same-sex couples, but it can work for any unmarried couple.
By expanding your radar to include gay-owned and gay-friendly businesses like hotels and bed and breakfasts, you also expand your options and the possibilities for getting a great trip for the best possible price.
5. It's safe -- and it can be a great alternative to boring business travel, too.
For number five, I got some interesting feedback from Bill Boeddiker, the owner of a beautiful bed-and-breakfast called Parker Guest House in San Francisco's Castro district. He welcomes a lot of straight travelers -- and he says they fall into three main categories:
• Parents and family members of gay people.
• "Classic" bed and breakfast travelers who prefer a "personal and unique" experience. He says that "bed-and-breakfast travelers are more open-minded in general, and have no problem staying in a gay-hosted environment."
• Interestingly, he said the third group is made up of women traveling alone on business. He says that female business travelers "seem to like the secure, personal feeling that our property offers."
In many ways, the 17-year history of the Parker Guest House reflects the evolution of gay travel. Not only are more straight people thinking gay when they travel, but more gay people are feeling comfortable and safe in a mixed environment as well. Boedikker says that in the 1990s, his hotel was nearly 100 percent gay, and he'd actually get complaints from guests if a heterosexual person was staying there. Gay people needed a feeling of security and privacy.
But now, he says that the hotel is around 40 percent straight, and he hasn't had a single complaint about the mix of travelers from either side.
Indeed, the lines are blurring between gay and mainstream travel. In my next post, I'll highlight three ways that you can add some gay flair to your next vacation...
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