an analysis of the tourism promotion portals in the 28 countries of the European Union
By Magda Antonioli Corigliano (Director, Masters in Tourism Economics, Bocconi University) and Marianna di Salle (Coordinator, Masters in Tourism Economics, Bocconi University)
In recent years, LGBT tourism has become an increasingly economically interesting segment for both the destinations and sector operators. Nonetheless, unequivocal or official data as regards the economic relevance of this segment is non-existent, with the exception of estimations provided by a number of independent institutions and associations, all drawing to very similar conclusions.
According to the various different sources, the economic value of LGBT tourism is estimated to be between 195 and 211 billion dollars globally per year. More specifically, the LGBT2030 survey, conducted in 2016 by Out Now on the travel spending of a sample of 130,000 LGBT individuals residing in 18 countries, reveals that spending has increased with respect to the 3 previous years in almost all of the countries considered, with notable increases in India (+5.7%), Colombia (+4.7%) and Turkey (+3.4%). The travel spending of LGBT residents in the three main markets (United States, Brazil and Japan) represents over half (51%) of the global market share.
Following a concise overview of the economic aspects of the sector, we began to concentrate our research on Europe, with a particular focus on an analysis of the official tourism promotion portals in the 28 countries of the European Union with regard to the LGBT sector. Why?
According to the 21st Annual Report on LGBT Tourism and Hospitality in the United States published by the CMI (Community Marketing & Insights) American consultancy firm in December 2016, the online communication strategies of tourism companies, with particular reference to the tourism promotion portals, can play a key role in their ability to attract LGBT tourists.
Ad hoc communication politics (such as the presence of a thematic section dedicated to the LGBT segment and/or the use of LGBT images across the portal) in fact seem to have the potential to influence both the perception of the company (and subsequently the destination) as LGBT-friendly and the decision to visit the destination. According to the same study, LGBT travellers also express the need for dedicated information on the destination web portals.
Inspired by this survey, we also wanted to carry out research into the online communication activities implemented by national European tourism organisations on the English versions of their portals with regard to LGBT travellers.
Of the 29 portals analysed in January 2017, 16 (55%) have a section or page dedicated to LGBT travellers. Of the 13 portals (45%) that do not have specific sections, 5 make no reference to LGBT travellers, while 8 do make some degree of reference when searching for keywords via the portal’s internal search engine. Bulgarian, Cypriot, Croatian, Italian and Romanian portals make no specific reference to LGBT travellers. Belgian (Flanders), Estonian, Greek, Lithuanian, Luxembourgian, Polish, Portuguese and Czech portals make reference to LGBT travellers through the use of keywords. Instead, Austrian, Belgian (Brussels and Wallonia), Danish, Finnish, French, German, Irish, Latvian, Maltese, Dutch, British, Slovakian, Slovenian, Spanish, Swedish and Hungarian portals all feature a dedicated section or thematic page.
For the portals with an ad hoc section or that make significant reference to LGBT travellers, the topics elaborated upon and suggested destinations have also been examined so as to understand if and how these countries are addressing their LGBT audience and which tourist attractions are being promoted to this end.
Events and bars/night-life feature as the two most frequently cited topics. Respectively, 21 and 20 portals focus on these topics, followed by food and drink, which is mentioned on 14 websites.
Of almost 150 events proposed throughout Europe, many are directly aimed at the LGBT community (almost 88%). This however does not only refer to Pride, but to many different events in terms of type, content and size. Alongside artistic-cultural festivals (linked to LGBT cinema and theatre), there are in fact sports initiatives, beauty pageants, themed days within larger events (such as Gay Sunday at Oktoberfest or Queer Parade at the Düsseldorf Carnival) or special initiatives such as the Rainbow Ball in Austria or The Outing in Ireland.
Just over 300 establishments are recommended across the portals taken into consideration, divided equally between bars, cafés and restaurants on the one side and clubs, discotheques and theme nights on the other. For the most part, these establishments are situated in districts with strong links to the gay community or in bustling areas, awash with commercial activities. Both the bars and clubs tend to be predominately aimed at a more general LGBT audience and in particular at gay men. The references made by various different countries to 50 theme nights (many of them dedicated to lesbian women) are particularly interesting when you consider that we are discussing the communication of national tourism organisations.
Events, establishments and food and drink, whilst being important, are evidently not the only factors that tourism organisations focus on to attract LGBT tourists. Although to a lesser extent, the most frequently cited attractive aspects in the diverse destinations in descending order include: cultural attractions, shopping, historical heritage, the presence of districts with strong links to the gay community, gay saunas, the natural landscape, architecture and design, shows, the possibility to go on themed tours to discover the destination’s gay scene and outdoor activities.
It is however surprising that despite the recent regulatory advancements concerning marriage and civil weddings, only two portals offer possible honeymoon destinations and/or wedding venues. Similarly, with the exception of a few scattered references, the target market for LGBT families and LGBT grandparents travelling with grandchildren appears to have been somewhat neglected, even if data concerning growing trends within this segment underlines a certain demand.
As regards the destinations, tourism organisations are no longer only suggesting classic gay tourist locations. On the contrary, sometimes they are no longer suggesting them at all. Greece however limits itself, for example, by only mentioning Athens with reference to the LGBT target market. The themed sections on the portals in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Germany, Spain and France are instead teeming with travel inspiration to discover the entire country beyond its capital and most important cities.
Current status and potential
By Magda Antonioli Corigliano (Director, Masters in Tourism Economics, Bocconi University)
And Sara Bricchi (MET Researcher, Bocconi University)
It is estimated that for every 8 euros spent worldwide in the travel industry 1 is spent on luxury travel (IE Premium and Prestige Business Observatory, 2015). The segment is growing and the numbers would lead us to believe that it will continue to do so worldwide for the next decade (+6.2% annually until 2025 – against estimated growth within the general travel sector of +4.5% annually) (Amadeus, 2016). This being said, the importance of luxury tourism as a market is not limited to its growth, which has been non-stop despite the crisis (+4.5% annually in the 2011/2015 period – Amadeus) or to its turnover, which, in 2016 revolved around just under 300 billion euros solely for the Hôtellerie, F&B and Cruise sectors, according to Altagamma e Bain. It is also and for the most part due to the fact that this segment is able to anticipate the trends and consumer behaviours that will regard tourism as a whole in the near future.
To therefore be able to understand the motivations of the luxury traveller will not only enable you to offer them a more personalised product/service (even of a higher added value), but to understand what will drive the market as a whole in the years to come and be able to anticipate a suitable offer.
The luxury concept has evolved over time and today is ever more related to material goods (index of status and ostentation) and is more and more connected to passions, personal satisfaction and experiences, to the benefit of the tourism industry (according to a Skift, 2017 survey, aside from some notable differences between the different countries, over 50% of those interviewed said that they prefer travel experiences to luxury material goods). The subjectivity connected to this vision of the luxury sector poses new challenges for sector operators concerning the exclusivity and customisation of the service, but above all, the segmentation of the market and definition of potential demand.
It is estimated that there are approximately 14 million HNWI (High Net Worth Individuals – Capgemini, 2015) worldwide and 2100 billionaires (Hurun, 2015), to which all of those who, despite being less affluent, purchase luxury products and services every now and again must be added (the distinction between premium and luxury is becoming less and less clear-cut). It is in fact the consumption behaviour, in addition to the degree of accumulated wealth (and not geographical/social-demographic criteria) that defines the luxury traveller.
Even if “Bluxury” (business+luxury) is becoming more and more widespread, it tends principally to revolve around leisure tourists (74% – IPK, 2015), interested in tours, short city and seaside breaks and cruises, predominately hailing today from the United States, China, Japan, Canada and Australia (in Europe: the United Kingdom, France and Germany). Despite this, emerging markets have recorded the highest levels of growth: China +12.2%, India +12.8%, Russia +9%, Countries of the Gulf Region +4.5%. (Amadeus, 2016) The latter are also to be considered in terms of their investment potential.
What they all have in common is the pursuit of an experience, understood as access to something unique, for just a few select individuals (a money-can’t-buy experience), something that is innovative and characterised by premium quality and is highly customisable that will evoke emotions and memories/stories to share, or that enables you to learn new skills/practice or perfect already acquired skills (transformative experiences). It has been calculated that experiences represent 55% of spending within the luxury segment (Lux Redux) worldwide and they are, above all, connected to: food and drink, art (understood chiefly as contemporary art), wellness-fitness, extreme sports and shopping. This being said, it is the trip in its entirety that makes the experience: from the digital experience during the booking phase (the internet is the number one source of information as well as the main booking channel for the luxury traveller – 72% directly visit the hotel or airline company’s website – Resonance, 2016), to the flight, hotel stay (increasingly more immersed in the local fabric and culture) to the return home at the end of the trip and the sharing of the experience.
This concept of luxury motivates tourism operators to better understand their role within the industry: in order to offer more added value for the customer (it has been calculated that HNWI spend 3,265 € on average per person per trip – Visa), it is in fact necessary to understand how they are to contribute to their customers’ travel plans, as well as their requirements and desires in the immediate future. From this overview, the importance of the role played by intermediaries is evident: if 70% of luxury travellers choose independent tours (Visa), the majority of them also seek the experience of a consultant, whether it be a concierge or intermediary operator, who is capable of translating the requirements and dreams of the individual into a tailor-made experience, as well as putting them in contact with luxury brands and companies in the destination of choice.
The industry, which plays a key role, must not appear to constitute simple service providers, but professionals who are able to connect and cooperate, both vertically and in terms of the destination in equal measure, to offer a unique, consistent and united experiential product, luxury travel, in which the various different components are synchronised.
Technology and mobile devices almost certainly play an important practical role in this sector and the intelligent use of ‘digital traces’ left by luxury travellers allows for the obtaining of valuable information on consumer preferences and behaviours, which can be used to greatly improve the product/service on offer as well as the operations. We must however not forget that it is human connections that really make the difference within this segment, thus it is particularly important to pay attention to Human Resources and more specifically to those individuals in direct contact with the customers, with specific talent scouting, training, motivation, employer branding and retention activities.
The study concludes with a focus on Italy and how, despite the fact that it remains a stable and desirable travel destination for foreign luxury travellers (simply consider this year’s rankings on Virtuoso, Travel Leaders Group or Traveller Made, which once again see Italy excel), there are still margins for improvement both with regard to arrivals and spending. To this end, as expressed in the interviews conducted with sector operators and experts, it is necessary to promote a more modern take on the country’s culture and identity.