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Challenges in the gay travel industry

Challenges in the gay travel industry
Author: Milena Hoehl
2 Commentries
Even though the world gets more tolerant towards the LGBT community, there are still destinations around the globe that punish homosexuality. The issues here is that many places are not obviously homophobic by law, but the reality can be different and the community is very disapproved of homosexuality. But whilst there are many homophobic countries, there are also many agencies that promote with gay friendly travel. However, it is not always carried out appropriately.

homophobia, gay travel, queer travel, homophobic destinations, gay marketing


Just like everyone else, lesbians and gay men have travelled the world. It goes without saying that in earlier years there were more challenges for them in form of being nearly invisible and especially by hiding their sexuality and relationship.

In the past few years, in many different countries around the globe there have been social, political and cultural changes that open travel options for many more members of the LGBT community. They no longer have to hide their sexuality whilst visiting new places, make friends and discover new destinations. Despite the fact that these changes have taken or are taking place, LGBT members are still stigmatised and very cautious especially in destinations with higher risk in Middle East, Africa and parts of Asia.

However, today’s world has shown many acts of gay-friendliness: In Argentina, the country’s leader enthusiastically cheered when her country released the first same-sex marriage law in South America. A lesbian proudly serves as the head of government in Iceland, an openly gay man serves in the parliament in Nepal and an African country enacts a new constitution that not only eliminates apartheid, but also offers marriage and full civil rights to same-sex couples in South Africa. These and other societies are examples for all those who are promoting, celebrating and profiting from LGBT tourism nowadays.

But is this only marketing used in the travel industry to attract more customers? And how safe is it for LGBTs to travel to countries that are known as homophobic? Also, which challenges lay ahead of gay travellers?

Gay travellers are often identified as white or Causasian, well-educated, young, wealthy or middle class and live in urban areas without children (Vorobjovas-Pinta and Hardy, 2015). On the other hand, several authors and researchers have found that this stereotyping and generalisation of LGBT travellers is problematic and resulted in the homogeneous perception of the gay travel market (Branchik, 2002; Vorobjovas-Pinta and Hardy, 2015). It was also claimed that the gay market is not homogeneous and that it is actually very divers and shares characteristics (Branchik, 2002). Socio-demographics such as ethnicity, age, income and education have been widely used in tourism research to profile travellers and distinguish differences in them. Nonetheless, only little research has examined the distinction amongst LGBT travellers, and researchers suggest to examine more the diversity within the LGBT travel market (Branchik, 2002; Vorobjovas-Pinta and Hardy, 2015).

Vorobjovas-Pinta and Hardy (2015) outline that two major motivations for gay travellers are the sense of belonging and a desire of freedom. Regarding this two motivations, the research considers two main factors of sexual orientation identities, which are openness with sexual orientations and collective self-esteem to explore their relation to gay travellers’ travel psychographics.

One of the biggest challenges for gay travellers definitely is homophobia in many places. The list of destinations that punish homosexuality is filled with Muslim countries. In some Muslim countries, whole towns have nicknames regarding the supposed homosexuality of their inhabitants. Idlib in Syria is one of them, just like Qazvin in Iran. An old joke in Afghanistan is that birds fly over Kandahar with one wing held under their tail to symbolise precaution.

On the other hand it can be not funny at all. In Iran today, anal sex is a capital offence and people are commonly executed for it. In Saudi Arabia, Mauritania, Sudan, and Yemen, sodomy is also punishable by death, however, no executions have been reported for at least for ten years.

Amongst other Muslim countries, the penalty in Algeria, Kuwait, Bahrain, Morocco, Lebanon, Somalia, Oman, Tunisia, Qatar, and Syria is imprisonment, up to 10 years in the case of Bahrain. In those states that have no particular law against homosexuality, gay people may still be punished under other laws. For example in Egypt, a law against “debauchery” is often used.

These laws have a fatal effect on the lives of people who are unlucky enough to get caught but, apart from occasional crackdowns, the authorities do not actively seek out gay people to arrest them. Statistics are rare but the number of arrests is without doubt lower than it was during the British wave of homophobia in the 1950s. In 1952 in England, there were 670 prosecutions for sodomy, 3,087 for attempted sodomy or indecent assault, and 1,686 for gross indecency.

The issue with those laws, even if not regularly enforced, is that they display official disapproval of homosexuality and justify discrimination by individuals at an everyday level (Whittaker, 2016).


Branchik, B.J. (2002) Out in the market: a history of the gay market segment in the United States. Journal of Macromarketing 22(1) 86-97. 

Vorobjovas-Pinta, O. and Hardy, A. (2015) The evolution of gay travel research. International Journal of Tourism Research 18(4).

Whittaker, B. (2016) Everything you need to know about being gay in Muslim countries. London: The Guardian. Available from: www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jun/21/gay-lgbt-muslim-countries-middle-east [Accessed: 9 May 2018]
Challenges in the gay travel industry
Author: Vanessa Krull
I decided to comment on this paper since the topic is closely related to the research I undertook myself and concerns issues that have an impact on my personal life as well. Even though this paper and my own work, which analysed the motivation, choices and behaviour of queer travellers in connection with homophobia, may be seen as similar, there are still differences and aspects I have not considered.

The document started out by presenting several positive factors and occurrences about the LGBT+ community all around the world before discussing vital questions of today’s challenges of the gay travel industry. This approach clarified that a lot has changed for queer people who have gained more rights and recognition over last couple of years.

Moreover, the author was able to connect new developed LGBT+ rights to marketing and further explored the perception of the stereotypical gay traveller that, as the author’s research has shown, does not present the majority of customers of the gay travel market. The establishment of same-sex marriage in many western countries has created influential brand images of tolerance, respect and open-mindedness in many destinations. This ultimately resulted in an increase in queer visitors who were attracted to the concept of a safe environment (World Tourism Organization, 2017, 52). However, this may imply that efforts by destinations to come across as tolerant and open-minded towards the queer community are only carried out for the sake of expanding profit.

The author also demonstrated knowledge about on-going issues concerning homophobia in many destinations, especially Muslim countries, where strict views and laws against homosexuality result in saftey issues for queer travellers. Poria (2006) argued here that these potential risks may influence the travel choices and furthermore, the travel behaviour of queer tourists during their holiday in those countries. This might affect social interactions with locals as well as other tourists.

The accessible literature around the topic of ‘gay travel’ needs more improvement and contains a lack of relevant and modern information. However, the author was still able to deliver a well-structured discussion paper with significant information around the challenges that the gay travel industry faces today and possibly in the future.

Poria, Y. (2006) Assessing Gay Men and Lesbians Women’s Hotel Experiences: An Exploratory Study of Sexual Orientation in the Travel Industry. Journal of Travel Research, 44(3) 327-334.

World Tourism Organization (2017) Affiliate Members Global Reports, Volume fifteen – Second Global Report on LGBT Tourism. Madrid: UNWTO.
Challenges (and possible changes?!) in the gay travel industry
Author: Ricarda Krieger
I decided to comment on this paper as the topic is something I have come across when researching for my own conference paper and I also believe that tourism should be inclusive of everyone, regardless of ethnicity, origin, sexuality, beliefs or gender.

At first the author presents examples of social shifts in many countries around the globe which have had a positive impact on the rights and quality of life LGBTQ+ people, while later mentioning the struggles, discrimination legal persecution members of the LGBTQ+ community still face in other parts of the world.

I particularly enjoyed this paper for critiquing the homogenous way the LGBTQ+ community is perceived by the tourism industry. Many resorts and tour operators, even those that specialise on LGBTQ+ travels do struggle with catering for the wants and needs of such a large group of people. Aboard member of the International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association admits that this is particularly due to not recognising the individual needs of some, due to the perception that most LGBTQ+ travellers have a large disposable income
(Daniel, 2015).

Further, the author highlights the discrimination and legal persecution LGBTQ+ travellers face when spending time abroad, especially in the middle east and demonstrates a vast knowledge in this regard. I found it very interesting to learn that these laws are not executed on the regular, not in regard to tourists at least, as it does not only show the economic interest those countries have in LGBT tourism development and how they benefit from it.

When taking this research further I would be interested in whether LGBTQ+ travellers have an impact on homophobic laws in those countries and if a change in said destination’s views and policies is on the horizon because of tourism’s economic power. Also, looking into how LGBTQ+ travellers are perceived in countries where homosexuality is not prohibited by the law (anymore) but a societal tendency towards homophobia is still existent can be interesting when trying to capture the changes within the LGBTQ+ travel industry.


Daniel, D. (2015) Richard Gray on the emerging transgender market. New York: The New York Times. 20 September. Available from https://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/20/travel/lgbt-gay-travel.html [accessed 17 May 2018].