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LGBTQ+ Tour Operators Buckle Up For A Turbulent Recovery

Our friends at Out Adventures share a unique perspective on staying afloat during the COVID-19 crisis…
 
By Carl Hiehn
 
By most accounts, LGBTQ+ tourism just got Titanic-ed by coronavirus.
 
What at first appeared to be a controllable epidemic in Wuhan, China, quickly became a pandemic of glacial proportions. Before anyone could whisper, “Paint me like one of your French girls,” coronavirus had swept across the globe, closing international borders, docking ships and grounding planes. At Out Adventures, the virus has forced us to cancel all tours departing before June 15, 2020, and we don’t know what will come next.
 
But despite the perceived metaphoric collision, the LGBTQ+ travel industry has not only weathered similar crises, it has traditionally seen a surge in bookings and growth in their aftermath.
 
According to our friend Ed Salvato, an industry veteran and the founder of Hospitable Me, after 9/11 gay travel was one of the first segments of tourism to bounce back. In fact, 9/11 is when travel marketers and providers alike started including LGBTQ+ jet-setters in their consumer portfolios.
 
“9/11 was a sea-change,” says Salvato. “It was when marketers really observed how resilient gay male travellers in particular were.”
 
Similar comparisons have been drawn to LGBTQ+ steadfastness during the 2003 SARS epidemic and the 2008 financial recession.
 
Why? Well, in our opinion, economic, social and more nuanced factors all play a role.
 
For one, queer households still skew into ‘dual income, no kids’ territory. So there’s just more financial stability even during crises.
 
Second, without kids, those LGBTQ+ travellers are free to book a vacation without parental guilt. As Salvato puts it, “Gays often don’t have to sacrifice their kid’s education to go on a trip. They sacrifice that new pair of Prada slippers.”
 
Finally, and although it is difficult to explain how or why, travel has long been an ingrained component of queer culture. Perhaps a comparison can be drawn to our respective coming out stories, which often involve travelling to larger cities with robust LGBTQ+ scenes.
 
Before anyone gets their Andrew Christians in a knot, yes, these are all just generalizations. LGBTQ+ families are on the rise. Many in our community cannot afford Prada slippers, let alone a luxury cruise. And some LGBTQ+ people – though it pains us to say – don’t particularly fancy travel in the first place. But on the whole, we are an economically stable, globetrotting segment.
 
Circling back to said Titanic-ing, while we in the industry are confident this too shall pass, we are less confident things will go back to normal. LGBTQ+ travel preferences will evolve, new trends will emerge and the post-COVID tourism landscape will be forced to adapt. Until then, we believe LGBTQ+ tour and cruise operators need to be pragmatic, and place purpose ahead of profit. Cancelling tours, relaxing booking conditions, and refunding or crediting travellers will not just gain trust among our community, it is fundamentally the right thing to do.
 
Despite our endless references to James Cameron’s acclaimed epic, we believe in one major difference: LGBTQ+ tourism will not sink. In due course our international borders will open up, ships will set sail and planes will take flight.
 

 
About Out Adventures
Out Adventures is the world’s leading provider of outdoorsy, small-group excursions for gay men and lesbians. Based in Toronto, they live by the motto, “Never Lose Your Sense of Adventure.” For more information visit Out Adventures.
 

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