In spite of some recent rants, I am usually not a travel whiner. Stuff happens, I deal with it and move on. However, some marketing missteps in the hospitality industry along with a few personal experiences have made me think in greater detail about how the Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual/Transgendered (GLBT) community is treated in general by the travel industry.
The GLBT community has made tremendous strides over the last two decades. As a group, we have gone from living in the shadows to not only being accepted as human beings, but actually sought after by advertisers. This really shouldn't be surprising, as a demographic the GLBT community is on average better educated, enjoys higher salaries and has more disposable income than any other minority group. One would think that the hospitality industry would have realized this fact by now.
In their defense, airlines, hotels and cruise lines have tried. However, I get the distinct feeling that whoever designs their campaigns either isn't gay or is twenty years old, or both. As a thirty-something professional, I DO want thoughtful and targeted marketing assuring me of an accepting, stress-free experience. I also want front of house staff who don't give us strange looks when we ask for one bed and not to have to enter the "other" box for marital status.
What I DO NOT want are rainbow infused ad campaigns with half naked men. While I appreciate the effort, adding a rainbow flag to anything does not make it GLBT friendly -- it just makes it colorful. And soft porn frankly isn't a motivating factor when deciding on travel destinations, the destinations are.
Second, why do we need separate things? Expedia recently launched a GLBT Travel Lounge offering gay friendly travel options. That sounds fine on the face of it, but why does there need to be a GLBT search listing? Would you have a separate search criteria for African-Americans or Christians? That's absurd. Furthermore, the gay city guides on Expedia seem to highlight a lot of clubs, bars and design stores. Not feeding into any stereotypes there, are we? If they advertised stereotypical listings to other minorities, there would be a national boycott.
I do not need to be segregated with other gay people. I am an independent traveler and am quite capable of handling myself in most situations around the world and can interact with people of all backgrounds. I'm not looking for everyone to get who I am and do not need to travel in a homogenized bubble.
In order to demonstrate that I'm not completely crazy, let's use an example. Below is an ad from Philadelphia Tourism.
The first thing one notices is the rainbow flag. Ok, fine, I understand it is intended to quickly associate the city with the GLBT community. While I really don't like this use of it, I'll accept it. What really irritates me the most here is the tag line:
"Get your history straight and your nightlife gay."
What on earth is this supposed to mean?! It makes me angry just to read it. Does it mean that sightseeing is a straight activity? Does it mean that we need to pretend to be straight while touring? And why is it assumed that I want gay nightlife? (sorry for all the rhetorical questions) This statement accomplishes the amazing feat of being both offensive and utterly confounding at the same time.
I do not understand why the hospitality industry does not do a better job of marketing to GLBT audiences. Drop the rainbow flags and instead educate your staffs that 1) gay people do exist and 2) that you treat them like any other guest. This revolutionary concept would go well beyond any promise of techno parties or the excessive use of glitter. The same goes with gay-friendly itineraries. I don't even know what this means: clubs and brunch only restaurants? We don't need that, our travel interests are usually the same as anyone else when visiting a new place. When I go to Paris I want to visit Montmartre or the Louvre, not a drag club. What we need is respect and not segregation.
Marketing by stereotypes is never a good idea, and yet it remains a socially acceptable gimmick when addressing the GLBT community. I'm not trying to say "poor me" here, I just don't understand it.
On average, GLBT professionals enjoy a higher level of disposable income than other groups and many chose to spend that money on travel. Usually we don't have kids and the accompanying financial concerns of the prototypical family. The industry needs to do a better job of giving us a proper return on our travel investment. I am frankly tired of feeling like a second class citizen when traveling with my partner.
The rainbow flag is the symbol of the GLBT community because it is reflective of the fact that the community is incredibly diverse and is comprised of people from all walks of life. There is no average gay person and to assume that fact through travel marketing is at once both insulting and counterproductive. As a community, we have fought too hard and endured too much to be treated as a joke.
So please, travel companies, drop the pink boas and instead produce thoughtful marketing that the GLBT community can respect and not be repulsed by.
If any company needs help in learning how to really talk travel with the GLBT community, my inbox is always open: firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow Matthew Long on Twitter: www.twitter.com/landlopers