The term ‘travel’ and its connotations should denote positive experiences, adventure, and enjoyment. Yet for many LGBTQ+ travelers from around the world, the reality of traveling can often paint a very different picture, with new research from leading digital travel platform Booking.com revealing that 71% of UK LGBTQ+ travelers have experienced less than welcoming, or uncomfortable, experiences when traveling.
The most extensive LGBTQ+ travel research from Booking.com to date shines a light on attitudes, concerns, and travel preferences, as well as past stay experiences, current realities and hopes for a more inclusive travel future. Conducted amongst LGBTQ+ travelers across 25 countries around the world, the study shows that negative experiences are most common while travelers are out and about in public (27%), with LGBTQ+ travelers from India (100%), Denmark (97%), and Mexico (93%) indicating that they are experiencing this most frequently.
The reality of LGBTQ+ travel today
With the study exposing the barriers to inclusive travel that still remain for LGBTQ+ travelers, it also highlights that travel in principle and travel in practice are sometimes two different things for the community. For almost two-thirds of (60%) UK LGBTQ+ travelers, travel does present a time to relax and mentally unwind. However, the reality is that there are a number of additional considerations extending across the entire travel experience that those outside the community may never need to think about.
With nearly half (46%) of LGBTQ+ travelers having experienced discrimination while traveling, through being subjected to stereotyping (26%) being stared at, laughed at, or verbally abused by other travelers (13%) and/or locals (16%), it’s not surprising that LGBTQ+ travelers face the added complexity of navigating a trip from selecting a destination all the way through to the activities they take part in:
- 63% of UK LGBTQ+ travelers say that being part of the community impacts the decisions they make when planning
- For example, when selecting a destination:
- 61% report they have to consider their safety and wellbeing as an LGBTQ+ traveler – most strongly felt by travelers who identify as queer (75%) or gay (74%)
- Nearly half (43%) of the LGBTQ+ community feel that the destinations on their ‘bucket list’ have been affected by being part of the community
- 49% believe being a member of the LGBTQ+ community impacts who they choose to travel with
- 47% indicate it impacts the activities they participate in when away
Promising signs of progress and positivity
While there are many obstacles to inclusive travel for those who identify as LGBTQ+, there are still significant areas where travelers are having positive interactions and experiences, with 91% of LGBTQ+ travelers reporting that the majority of their travel experiences so far have been welcoming – with gay and lesbian travelers most likely to agree (90%).
It’s also refreshing that over half (51%) of travelers report that being part of the LGBTQ+ community actually makes them feel more confident as a traveler, with 84% saying that they do have the confidence to explore the destinations they want to visit. Gay travelers are most confident here (87%), followed by bisexual travelers (86%).
Ahead of arriving at their chosen property, 24% indicate that they have had friendly and informative correspondence with the property, with almost a quarter (24%) also being offered guidance and information about the local area during their stay. When arriving at a destination, a first impression counts for everything, and, fortunately, this has resulted in a positive experience for over a third (34%) of LGBTQ+ travelers who say they have experienced great first impressions on arrival, such as welcome drinks or friendly staff.
Community connection is key
The research from Booking.com also reveals that the LGBTQ+ community of a destination sits at the heart of many LGBTQ+ traveler decisions, and a passion to experience all that this community has to offer is prevalent among the findings:
- 65% of UK LGBTQ+ travelers are more likely to travel to a destination that celebrates its local LGBTQ+ community and history
- Over half (51%) are more likely to choose travel that allows them to learn more about the historical aspects of the LGBTQ+ community in their chosen destination
While LGBTQ+ travelers want a connection with the LGBTQ+ community to enrich their traveling experiences, they also look to brands to support and recognize the community too, with nearly half of LGBTQ+ travelers (48%) more likely to seek out attractions or activities that are tailored to the LGBTQ+ community. Just under half (49%) also research accommodations, brands, and experiences ahead of booking to understand the role they play in supporting the LGBTQ+ community, and that research lead to the majority (62%) being more likely to book with brands that are making an effort to do so.
A more inclusive travel experience for everyone
Although there are seeds of positivity and green shoots of progress across LGBTQ+ travel, there remains a real need – and opportunity – for the industry to make the travel experience more welcoming, inclusive, and holistically positive for LGBTQ+ travelers, and ultimately for everyone. When UK LGBTQ+ travellers were asked about what they hope to see from travel companies, the results provide real food for thought:
- 31% would like more tailored recommendations for their preferences and interests
- 36% would like additional information shared on the LGBTQ+ status of the location, including local laws, religious sensibilities, clothing mandatories, and LGBTQ+ hate crime stats
- Three in 10 (33%) would like to see filters that allow them to identify properties that offer a positive experience for LGBTQ+ travelers, with a filter being most popular amongst travelers from Brazil (40%), New Zealand, the US, and Vietnam (all 39%)
Booking.com recognizes the important role properties play in providing a more inclusive experience and is taking action to pave the way for everyone to Travel Proud. Launched in August 2021, Booking.com’s Proud Hospitality training program is available in English, French, German and Spanish for its accommodation partners globally, and now has more than 10,000 Proud Certified properties across 95 countries and territories on its platform, including 1,400 in the UK.
The goal of the 75-minute online Proud Hospitality training session (developed in partnership with HospitableMe) is to help hospitality professionals understand the challenges and barriers that the LGBTQ+ community face when traveling, providing them with practical skills and techniques that they can immediately put into practice at their property. The training is available free of charge to all Booking.com property partners globally and includes access to additional resources, such as a Travel Proud Customer Toolkit, which Proud Certified properties are encouraged to make available to all guest-facing staff so that they can confidently answer questions and provide an even more welcoming experience to their LGBTQ+ guests.
Upon completion of this online course – and the commitment to deliver a more inclusive experience – Proud Certified partners receive a Travel Proud badge on their property page to show potential guests that they can rely on a more welcoming experience – putting LGBTQ+ travelers at ease in the knowledge that the properties they are selecting have committed to making more inclusive hospitality their standard. A selection of cities with multiple Proud Certified properties are further showcased on a designated Travel Proud page, where travelers can learn more about the initiative, as well as find and book Proud Certified properties.
“At Booking.com, we believe everyone should be able to experience the world as themselves, always,” says Arjan Dijk, CMO and Senior Vice President at Booking.com. “From taking the time to unwind to experiencing different cultures, travellers from the LGBTQ+ community ultimately want the same as everyone else when it comes to travelling and the industry needs to make welcoming experiences the norm for everyone – no matter who they love, how they identify or where they come from. As a gay traveller myself, I’ve faced barriers to travel and discrimination but have also witnessed progressive change over the years. By taking action to pave the way for a more inclusive industry, we hope to set the stage for wider change that will up the standard of travel for everyone.”