Between economic uncertainty, earthquakes, blizzards, hurricanes, volcanoes and the threat of terrorism, the first few years of this decade, the twenty-tens (or “tweens” as I’ve heard them called) have been somewhat interesting for the travel market as a whole. But yet, statistics show that we’re not actually traveling any less. In fact, us gays are actually a people on the move.
So what the industry is facing is actually a change in the way people travel. Old and clearly tired formulas that have worked for decades are no longer in demand. Travelers, particularly trend-setting gay ones, are looking for something different and their expectations are now much higher than before.
So, what’s ‘going down’ in the year ahead? Or shall I dare to speculate and say ‘up’? I’m optimistic, I think it’s going to be an exciting time full of opportunities. New, welcoming destinations will do very well and some of those who have seen a decline in recent years will stop resting on their laurels and invigorate their product. I predict we’re going to see a somewhat remapped global economy, new technology or new, creative applications of it, plus some innovative new approaches to the way we go about our leisure time.
But really, it all comes down to understanding and catering to the changing needs of this generation of global gay travelers.
Here are my thoughts on the trends that we’ll see over the next year.
I believe the community will begin embracing in ways to participate in the funding, launch and development of new travel products and brands. I’m talking ‘Kickstarter’ for the gay travel world. It already exists in the Arts, in retail – so why not travel? Picture being able to “buy into” or “book into” firsts and unique concepts in gay travel before the product even physically exists. We know gays are early-adopters and love to invest in ideas, so we’re talking new resort or property buy-outs, ownership of hotel rooms or cruise-cabins, and the crowd-funding of unique experiences… all this building in community-led equity that will be traveler-centric, competing with the traditional ways.
We’ve always been a bunch on the move. But by mobile in this sense, I’m talking about your smart-phone. This decade’s travelers will not be taking their laptops out of their Brics carry-ons as they pass through the airport scanner, because they will have everything they need on their smartphone or tablet device. And with that will come an increased dependency on mobile devices to maximise each and every travel moment.
Over the next 12 months, I believe we will see an explosion of so-called ‘mobile moments’ in travel – on-mobile travel products and services that will enhance the gay travel experience. I’m not talking about using Grindr or Scruff to get the low-down on what’s local (you know what I’m talking about!), but new-generation ‘guidebooks’ and GPS-intelligence, real-time translators and clever phrase-books, “up to when check-in closes” late-deal bookers, instant mobile ticketing, social not-working, maps, photography – the works.
My name is data
Personal travel data, preferences and demographics are going to become an even more valuable social currency for travel providers. I’m already seeing a desperate race by the industry to ‘mine’ this data. But this business-led approach is going to be turned on its head when tomorrow’s travelers start demanding their share of the value, seeking to own and make the most of their lifestyle data – turning to brands that use this data to proactively offer traveler advice and help on how to enhance their travel experience – giving them better value by doing so.
I believe we’re going to see a new generation of loyalty schemes and trialling programmes, tailored to individual and specific traveler needs and wants. It’s a fine line though, because product-demographic matching on a person-by-person level can get a little Big-Brother. Whilst we like feeling special, we don’t always like being watched. (Well, some of us don’t).
The rise of ‘emerging destinations’
“Where’s new in gay travel?” So, we’ve heard about new, emerging destinations slowly developing their approach and building their products to be LGBT welcoming for years now, but in the next year, I predict that such new markets are going to develop far quicker than ever before. No doubt, this depends on the type of destination and its inherent cultural leanings towards the acceptance of inbound gay tourism, but I believe that once a destination decides that it can and will open its doors to LGBT tourism, it will see the success of doing so in a matter of months, not years. This accelerated phenomenon is already happening in destinations like Argentina, Taiwan and Singapore.
The above said, we must not forget the outbound gays. As countries like China, India, Russia and Brazil increase in affluence and influence, I predict you’ll be seeing many more gay travelers from these nations, looking for the social acceptance they might not yet receive in their home nation, in the more ‘traditional’ LGBT destinations. They’ll readily buy into the ‘exclusively gay’ concepts that some may think are passé; and in response, these destinations will renew and reinvigorate their products and rise again.
Give and take
I’m expecting to witness a step change in responsible travel. Although there has been a real focus on this in the gay world for a number of years now, particularly in eco-tourism, I see a further rise in interest in the concept of volun-tourism.
Gay customers have an interest in philanthropy and are inherently socially-aware. They also spend a lot of their income on travel. So by connected logic, gay travelers would be interested in travel concepts that give back to the place visited, or to the global gay community at large. But rarely have the two been combined. It’s understandable – a luxury holiday in Cambodia doesn’t always sit well next to a local HIV prevention project. There is some incongruence. However, I predict that switched-on responsible-travel brands will create projects that are a little more demanding of their clients, and I’m expecting a very positive response.
We are family
Lastly, the concept of gay family is changing. There are some obvious evolutions – a generally wider acceptance and the slow but steady legalisation of gay marriage creating huge wedding-abroad and luxury honeymoon opportunities. Plus gay adoption and surrogacy mean a greater demand for child-friendly gay holidays. But this doesn’t mean that the way gay people holiday will become more mainstream. Yes, of course we will see more trips to Disneyworld, but I believe gay people will still want to take their vacations in places where they feel truly welcome – and this will most probably be in situations with other gay families present. And what is interesting about the ‘gay family’ is that more often than not, it’s bigger than just parents and children. Gay families seem to holiday with grandparents, gay god-dads, queer uncles – an enormous opportunity for travel-providers to capitalise on multi-person sales from one single family unit.