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LGBT Travel Marketing: missing the mark… but here’s a plan!

LGBT Travel Marketing: missing the mark… but here’s a plan!

Do you know what I love about modern television and online marketing?  Advertisements that speak to me and that I don’t mind watching or looking into more.  A catchy ad does wonders for a brand, like the Disney World ads that have tiny bits of magic woven into them.  Or there’s an ad for the Holiday Inn that is all about a couple checking in before picking up their newly adopted baby.  These ads are so great.  And what about LGBT travel marketing?

Gay travel marketing that is directed to the LGBT population as a whole seems to miss the mark. Marketing firms and travel brands seem to think there’s a solid need for rainbows, glitter and sweaty boys. Do they all think that I want to take my kids on a family vacation to a place where that’s all they experience? No. 

If you’ve not been hit with LGBT travel marketing campaigns, here’s a glimpse into what’s exceptionally common.  True, actual gay travel companies understand the variety of types of travel and goals of different travelers, so you’ll see more targeted images when you’re searching within their own sites, but beyond those specific niche companies, LGBT travel marketing is a bummer and doesn’t often apply to gay family travelers.

A case for LGBT travel marketing

Fun fact: while considered to be around 4-5% of the population, LGBT dollars make up about 14% of travel revenue. Crazy! That means that per person, LGBT travel dollars are being spent at a rate of up to $3.87 to each straight $1.00 of travel spend. Although the market share of overall travel is lower, imagine if you could increase the number of LGBT families traveling…

With an estimated 200k kids in LGBT families just within the United States, efforts to capture that market share specifically are very sparse. For many LGBT couples, the process of building a family is arduous and trying. When it finally happens, they’re ready to celebrate and live their family lives, just like they’ve watched the common heterosexual families of the world do. Travel as a family is one way many families like ours does this. Aiming to welcome LGBT families is a major area of opportunity in online, print and televised marketing.

What does LGBT travel advertising look like?

The current state of things is like what I described above: LGBT travel marketing happens in blanket campaigns that showcase 20-something guys splashing on a beach. I totally get that ads are going to show good looking people who are active and in shape sooner than mediocrely handsome faces who’ve clearly focused on touring breweries, but what about families? What about lesbian tourist? What about two-mom families? Without directly seeking out these ads specifically, they do not show up for anybody.

The problem with cookies

Being a gay dad with two small kids and a husband, when I’m reading an article on the web and a sidebar ad pops up for a glitter covered booze-fest in the Mediterranean, I’m not feelin’ it, both because I’ve seen that a thousand times and because that’s not our travel style.  I manage my own blog site where the terms “LGBT” and “gay” are used continually, and yes I am reading work from other gay writers, and yes I’m reading about travel trends, so yes, the cookies on my computer want me to enjoy the gayest of the gay travel experiences.  Forget that I’m writing and publishing about travel with kids, my cookies know what’s best for me and my family and I guess what we need is a week aboard a wild cruise ship or at an all-gay resort.  Oh LGBT travel advertising, you’re such a card. And yes, due to writing about kids I’m also getting mom-centric ads constantly.

Actual Travel Advertising on Television

Did you know that the LGBT population enjoys destinations beyond Ibiza and Palm Springs?  It’s true.  In the USA, we tend to enjoy hiking in the mountains, golf and even, dare I say it, professional sports.  It’s rare to see a billboard targeting LGBT populations around the States and it’s even more rare to see television spots showing our families or lives (but props to Campbell’s and Honey Maid for working same-sex families in every now and then).  It’s true that there are some brands that have created ads displaying two moms or two dads in regular, domestic life, but it’s few and far between, and typically you need to search the internet for it because that’s where you’ll see the ads.  You don’t see live television ads portraying two dads and their kids on a couch eating Doritos and watching a football game.  You don’t see two moms holding hands watching their kids splashing in the waves, trying to coax same-sex families to the tropics.

What you do see on live television is this:  mom, dad, son, daughter – exploring a cruise destination or walking down Main Street USA in the Magic Kingdom.  Maybe the reason there isn’t a focus on LGBT television advertising is because we’re hip to the game and use RoKu and Kindle Fire Sticks for televised content. Either way and in either medium, LGBT travel marketing just doesn’t happen.

If you’re going to advertise during Will & Grace or How To Get Away With Murder, shows with gay characters and accurate distribution of gay population through the cast (and viewership), you might as well capitalize on that audience and show a commercial with two men heading off on their honeymoon aboard Singapore Airlines.  You could make bank capturing some market share from the two women planning their winter adventure to Montreal but who haven’t booked Air Canada flights yet…  Just a suggestion.

What online LGBT travel marketing looks like

Online advertising that is going to be in front of almost every individual that could be traveling, should function off appropriate cookie based advertising.  For example:  we’ve been researching “family travel Iceland” and “traveling with kids UK.”  We’re still not seeing ads that play to us, either as LGBT travelers or as family travelers.  Why is that?  True, the second I start looking for flights to Mexico I see Puerto Vallarta and all its rainbows, but why so inconsistent? I feel like technology has progressed enough that ad networks can target sidebars and in-content ads better.

What I see online: sidebars of heterosexual couples walking on a beach; autoplay video ads of that same family of four we saw on TV but now at a baseball game.  And seniors.  How does my computer know that I go to bed early and can’t sleep past 5:00 am? Is ad targeting that difficult?

With today’s technology, including social media apps being authorized within all kinds of other programs, you’d think that online advertisers would be effectively using the information and preferences of their users more accurately.  Creating and targeting LGBT travel marketing for the many subsets of the gay community would produce more engagement and click through rate (CTR) than repeatedly trying to get all LGBT travelers to want the same experiences.

What LGBT travel marketing SHOULD look like

I’d like to see a promo video before we watch something on YouTube that shows two dads playing on the beach in Jamaica with their kids. Maybe Jamaica was a bad choice, as it’s NOT a gay-friendly destination… but then that’s something very few travel brands consider or are even aware of.  Or I’d love to see a banner ad with two moms and their kids flying the friendly skies… another bad example as we had a very bad experience on United a few years ago specifically around being two dads and they sent us form letter response about their deliberate inclusivity. Ugh.

Here’s a basic checklist to consider and confirm with yourself or your team when making an LGBT travel marketing plan:

  1. I’ve chosen my target market WITHIN the LGBT community.
  2. I’ve designed a content/campaign plan that demonstrates the normalized LGBT experience
  3. I’m not playing to any stereotypes — unless you’re promoting something that is LGBT-designed AND meant to celebrate something specific within the community, stay away from stereotypes
  4. I’m going to distribute this LGBT travel marketing campaign to ad networks and channels that aren’t specifically for LGBT populations

Take the time to evaluate these four points when you’re creating marketing plans or campaigns aimed at the LGBT community. The best way to turn somebody off is to offend them, particularly by pigeonholing them into a stereotype.

Tip: take a look at our article on Committing to and Creating Influencer Marketing plans. Lots of good insight around making informed content plan decisions.

And you know what?  A getaway without the kids can actually happen, and you’d think that couples like us might fancy a different sort of getaway… just like a husband and wife might plan.  You know, we’d love to getaway to an all-inclusive couples resort and know that we’re welcome vs assuming we will be.  In the late 90s and into the 00s there were some legal issues with a certain brand being for “couples only” and clearly excluding LGBT couples.  That’s since passed except for resorts in Jamaica where homosexual acts are illegal.  Anyways, getting back on topic.

What are my expectations for gay travel advertising?

I guess I shouldn’t be complaining that at least advertising does often treat me like a standard traveler not just a gay traveler, but since we’re talking about targeted LGBT travel marketing, marketing and offerings that would suit my specific family would be great. Most of the travel ads we see aren’t offensive, which is nice, but it would be ideal to see something that was very specifically for me and I think we have the technology in this day and age to do so.  Why is this important to consider?

Here’s the truth:  if we saw ads for two cruise tour companies with the same exact offerings, or even airlines for that matter, we WOULD book with the company that clearly understands us as its potential clientele.   While advertising doesn’t always provide the final influence on a destination decision, it can mean all the difference when it comes to setting competitors apart.

I think it’s safe to say that the gay community all around the world understands the need to support our own business as well as others that make an effort to welcome us.  As a free piece of advice to the travel boards, airlines, cruise companies and hotels around the world:  market to us and follow through on the vision you create. LGBT travel marketing has the potential to reach target markets with the funds and ability to travel. Make us want to enjoy traveling with you and then over-deliver on the awesome.  That sounds like a lofty request, but it’s not tough to do.  Need help?  Ask us to craft or launch a campaign with you.


We wrote another version of this concept was originally written for under the title For Gay Dad Families, Travel Advertising Frequently Misses the Mark.
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