Page last updated at 13:07 GMT, Friday, 10 December 2010

Has gay travel come of age?

By Rajan Datar
Presenter, Fast Track

Aleksander and Shantu at their wedding service
A first for gay travel - Aleksander and Shantu have their wedding on a plane before flying off on honeymoon.

The gay travel market is booming and estimated to account for more than 10% of travel spending worldwide - but how well is the industry responding to the strength of pink purchasing power?

The travel world says it embraces gay and lesbian travellers. There is now a growing number of new destinations and travel ideas appealing directly to the lucrative gay market.

But homosexuality is banned in more than 80 countries, often for religious or cultural reasons, and there are still reports of hoteliers turning away gay couples wanting to share a double room.

Those campaigning for gay rights and equality say there is still a lot more to be done, but those working with the travel industry say great strides forward are being made.

Rainbow flag

Ian Johnson
Ian Johnson: Gay travellers want what everyone else wants

Ian Johnson of Out Now Consulting said one factor more than any other was driving the gay travel market forward - money.

"There are more and more destinations, airlines, hotel groups chasing the lucrative pink gay and lesbian euro, pound and dollar," he said.

"But as competition increases, you can't just fly a rainbow flag and be gay-friendly, you actually have to deliver on the promise and that is the challenge for the industry today."

Out Now estimates the gay travel market could be worth $142bn (£90bn) next year.

Mr Johnson advises travel companies on how to provide better services to gay clients - right down to the greeting a gay couple might get when they check in to a hotel.

He said: "Lesbian and gay travellers want what everybody else wants.

"When you travel - and it's not that difficult - it's not rocket science - you want to relax and you want to feel comfortable. That is why you spend your money on going on vacation.

"Where lesbian and gay people are the same, the environment they are operating in is different because they are not the norm."

Gay wedding

Travel companies can be quite innovative with ideas to promote gay travel.

The Scandanavian airline SAS recently hosted the first gay wedding on an aeroplane for two German graphic designers, Aleksander and Shantu, who won a competition.

On the beach
The gay travel market could be worth $142bn (90bn) next year.

The couple were serenaded by a member of the SAS cabin crew with a special rap song before flying off on honeymoon to the Big Apple.

Anders Lindstrom of SAS said: "Statistics show that gay and lesbian travellers are extremely loyal to their brands, which is of course very important in a highly competitive markets."

But there were other spin offs too. One in three people either knew or were related to a gay person - so providing good service was about a wider appeal.

But Daniel Danso of Stonewall said that while a lot of progress had been made, there was still more to be done.

He said: "Travel and Leisure companies have to realise that tapping into the lesbian, gay and bisexual market takes more than just creating products aimed at lesbian, gay and bisexual people.

"It also means that the companies themselves fundamentally have to have inclusive workplaces, so that their staff understand the unique situation people face when choosing to travel, choosing accommodation and choosing which countries would be safe to visit."

It was one thing for travel companies to say they were gay-friendly or hotels to offer double rooms, but it was the reality of what happened after check-in that mattered - the actual service on the ground.

There were still issues in many parts of the world where gay people would be wary about showing affection in public.

He said: "Things are getting better. There is a lot of work to do. If you consider that in the UK we have only been protected from being fired for being gay since 2003, that puts things in perspective."

But whatever the challenges ahead, Aleksander and Shantu were flying high on their trip.

Aleksander said: "Of course it sounds a little bit strange here in business class talking about inspiring people to get married and fight for their rights, but in the end, that is what it is about."

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