LGBTQ tourism may seem like a new phenomenon, but it’s far from it. In fact, one could argue that Hanns Ebensten, also known as the father of gay travel, set the wheels in motion with He Travel and its first gay-only tour of the Grand Canyon in 1973.
Given that June marks Pride Month—a time to celebrate LGBTQ achievements but also to create awareness of the issues and struggles that persist in societies around the world—we felt compelled to reach out to hoteliers of the LGBTQ community to hear their insights into this segment of the industry that’s grown and bloomed over the last 50 years.
You’ll get to know Pedro and Diego, the owners of Il Segreto di Pietrafitta. Their vision breathed new life into the ruins of a 16th-century farmhouse amid the undulating hills of Tuscany. In their eyes, however, it didn’t become a hotel. When guests check in, they’ll know that they’ve arrived at the home of a friend.
We’ll also introduce you to Fabrice and Fabio. Invigorated by the desire to have a business of their own, they left behind the hustle and bustle of Paris for the sun-drenched skies of the Côte d’Azur. Their ideation transformed the interior of a building from 1900 into the neo-industrial gem that Arome Hotel Nice is today.
And you’ll have the chance to meet Roger, the General Manager at Hotel Deutsche Eiche—an institution in the heart of Munich’s long-established art and gay scene. Its roots as a hotel date to 1928, but it was in 1993 when the new owners—Dietmar and Sepp—took the hotel to new heights with their Midas touch.
What inspired you to become hoteliers?
Pedro and Diego – The fascination for different cultures, the predisposition for the guest relationship, and the love for Italy inspired us to start this experience as hoteliers. We put our heart and soul into our work every day, and our guests realize it as soon as they step through the doors of our farmhouse. Our goal is to help them relax and daydream, making sure that the memory of their holiday in Tuscany remains for a lifetime in their hearts.
Fabrice and Fabio – For us, it’s the pleasure of human relations. Prior to working in the hotel industry, we both had long careers in which we dealt with people on various levels, with diverse backgrounds and a broad spectrum of nationalities (Fabrice in human resources, and Fabio in in-bound tourism). Thanks to those years in our former professions, we’re able to integrate our experience into all the facets of running our hotel—from laws to supply and staff management to understanding and meeting the needs of our guests.
Roger – I used to work in banking, but I found it to be fairly boring due to the intangibility of the services provided by the financial industry. I was on the lookout for an area where I could combine my knowledge of economics, finance, and marketing into a whole new, real-life setting. I’ve always found hospitality to be a fascinating industry, and I’ve been an avid traveler all my life, too. So, I switched from pure finance to hospitality a little more than a decade ago, despite the generally lower wage levels.
I also thoroughly enjoy the day-to-day opportunities to communicate with people and use a combination of IQ and EQ to solve problems.
What are some of the challenges about being hoteliers, particularly in the LGBTQ community?
Pedro and Diego – Let’s first talk about the essential characteristics that a good hotelier must have: empathy, patience, and mental flexibility. Each guest is different and carries with them a world that makes them who they are. It’s up to us as hoteliers to decipher the wishes of our guests, fulfilling them and making sure that their stay is unforgettable and suited to their needs. As far as the LGBTQ community of hoteliers is concerned, the main challenge is to always be yourself, even while working. As a married couple, we work hand in hand every day, and any guest who enters through our doors knows this—and rightfully so. Like everyone else in the world, we must always be ourselves.
Fabrice and Fabio – We’d say that it’s the need to always give perfect service, as well as underscore the mutual respect among all your types of guests without fail.
Roger – The work-life balance seems to be a major issue for some who are in a senior managerial position—no holidays, no weekends, and rarely a day off. My current main challenge is to proceed with my PhD, despite a very heavy workload. When you work in a family business or a small hotel, the job also requires physical strength and stamina; you aren’t just locked in an office all day. If you are, you’re probably doing something wrong because you have to be “out in the field” to remain in touch with your clientele and your employees. This isn’t an industry for those preferring to sit in their ivory towers.
What travel trends have you seen grow among LGBTQ travelers?
Pedro and Diego – Today’s travelers are well-informed, and they know what they want, often planning their vacations months or years in advance. That’s why LGBTQ travelers carefully choose where to stay, making sure that the hotel they book is a place where they’ll feel good, be themselves, and relax with their partner or family without risking ending up in uncomfortable situations or—even worse—in a hostile one. The goal of every traveler is to relax and spend pleasant moments while on holiday. The indispensable condition to enjoy a peaceful stay is to be in a peaceful contest without prejudices of any kind. It’s a situation that should be taken for granted nowadays, but sadly it’s not often the case.
Fabrice and Fabio – We see that food and wine tasting tours are still a bit too touristy for our guests. However, when they ask us, either before or during their stay, how they can experience great French cuisine while visiting Nice, we’ll provide them with our recommendations of the restaurants that we go to ourselves. Each room also has an excellent booklet by Escufignous, which lists the best restaurants in the city. We’ve found that guests value this type of information we can provide them.
Roger – There are a few trends I’ve noticed. One is that LGBTQ travelers don’t wish to be as isolated from the majority of society as they did in the past. The other is that a portion of the gay scene has crossed over to the Internet, with many locations reporting a decrease in number of bars and discos that would generally cater to a gay clientele. Yet, there’s still a chance for a few, heavily specialized destinations, for example the European beaches popular among gay travelers or even Berlin, that could target those travelers by attracting them with event-based offers and entertainment options.
What’s your tip for LGBTQ-friendly hoteliers on how they can promote their properties as a having a positive and welcoming environment for LGBTQ guests?
Pedro and Diego – Our advice is simple: be yourself. To be a hotelier means loving hospitality and being curious about the world and other people. Every hotelier must open the doors of their property and treat all guests in the same way, no matter who they are. If the property is gay owned, our advice is, again, always be yourself at work as well as on digital channels such as social media. The best strategy to promote your property is to be authentic; it always pays off not to hide. And whoever sows love, reaps love.
Fabrice and Fabio – Be as natural and open as possible. What’s more, avoid creating any negative stereotypes that will offend your LGBTQ guests.
Roger – There’s so much more to being LGBTQ-friendly than having a rainbow sticker on the entrance door or a rainbow flag hanging out front. You have to understand and live, so to speak, this market segment and its various elements.
I’ve seen several desperate efforts by international hotel chains that tried to appear gay friendly and open to diversity. It couldn’t have been more obvious that they were only out for the “pink dollars,” without really standing behind the message and training their staff accordingly. As soon as the person at the front desk, for example in a less-tolerant country, makes you feel awkward about arriving with your same-sex partner, all those millions of dollars in marketing expenditures go down the drain.
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What marketing strategies have you found success with among LGBTQ travelers?
Pedro and Diego – This will sound repetitive, but our secret is really just being ourselves. On our marketing channels (website, booking platforms, social media), we always love to present the two of us in a transparent and authentic way. By doing so, we naturally attract guests with similar mindsets to ours.
In hospitality, especially at a boutique hotel like ours, we believe it’s also important for everyone to know who the hosts are, because opening the doors to your hotel is like opening the doors to your home. Every corner of our property reflects us, as well as sharing our essence and openness we like to show guests. It’s the best marketing strategy possible for us.
Fabrice and Fabio – Personalization resonates well with our guests, and so it’s important to create that from the moment they book until the time they check out. For example, as soon as we receive their reservation, we follow up by email with the details of their booking, as well as ask for their arrival time and means of transportation. According to their response, we’ll provide them with the easiest and quickest way to reach our hotel. Arrival and departure days always create stress for travelers, which is why we do our best to help them avoid any unpleasant situations—it’s what we aim for.
Once our guests arrive, we give them the personalized welcome that will make them feel at home. And we’re all too willing to let them know about the secret jewels of the city that the average tourist doesn’t know about. That way guests can truly experience Nice like a local.
Roger – It’s important to speak their language and see what excites them. The rules are the same as for any other segment-targeting efforts: know your customers and understand the diversity within the community. But if you speak their language in an artificial gay tone, your LGBTQ guests will call you out on it.
What’s your outlook for the future of LGBTQ travel?
Pedro and Diego – We think that LGBTQ tourism has enormous potential for growth, especially in times like these, because travel is one of the activities that we all missed the most during lockdown. Traveling must be a pleasure, which is why the careful choice of accommodations is an essential part of a successful holiday. LGBTQ travelers, even more than any other traveler, must feel welcomed and pampered in the accommodations they choose.
By taking advantage of the tools that the digital age has given us, LGBTQ travelers need to feel secure that they’re selecting a property that accepts them for who they are and, in the end, makes their holiday unforgettable. Every traveler must be happy, carefree and, above all, free to be oneself.
Fabrice and Fabio – Hoteliers need to keep in mind that there’s an increasing number of LGBTQ families than ever before. So, be ready to welcome those travelers with open arms, too, and make them feel comfortable in the best possible way at your property.
Roger – The result of rising incomes and the improvement of wealth in many regions of the world, such as in Southern and East Asia, Eastern Europe, and the oil-rich Arab countries, have been creating a steady flow of new LGBTQ tourists. In fact, it’s been our experience that particularly homophobic countries are the senders of some of the most dedicated, albeit not necessarily the most well-to-do, LGBTQ tourists who yearn for the freedoms we enjoy in the West.
I’m optimistic about the future of LGBTQ travel, however I’m still concerned by a new wave of politically and religiously motivated bigots in many countries who are trying to quell or restrict basic human rights, along with forcibly aiming to swing back the pendulum into a fascistic direction. We have to consciously preempt those moves and push for gay rights. The open, more relaxed attitude of so many people of the younger generation is also a reason for hope. I expect gay liberation, including for an increasing number of gay travelers in the developing world, to continue and benefit providers in the LGBTQ hospitality sector.
Featured image by Jose Pablo Garcia on Unsplash: