Last updated: 07:39 PM ET, Thu June 09 2016

Q&A with IGLTA President John Tanzella

Destination & Tourism | International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association | Kristina Rundquist | June 09, 2016

Q&A with IGLTA President John Tanzella

The International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association just had its annual conference in South Africa and it was a whopping success.

So we wanted to know more details on how it went, and what’s planned for the future for IGLTA.

Naturally, we brought it straight to the top for this Q&A with IGLTA president John Tanzella.

Travel Pulse: Tell us about the conference.

John Tanzella: It was our first-ever conference on the African continent, and not only was it our first but it was the first international LGBT business conference on the continent. It was really exciting because it also turned out to be our biggest conference outside of North America–we had 322 attendees from 23 countries. A lot of travel agents sell safaris so it was a great chance to meet with lodges and other providers in southern Africa. We had Desmond Tutu’s son speak as well as Derek Hanekom, the Minister of Tourism, who really talked about how LGTB travel was a leader for South Africa after apartheid.

The convention was a real success in Africa; we had some panels and discussions with the CEOs of NY & Co., Destination DC, Brazil Tourism and Cape Town Tourism, talking about trends and what destinations need to do to stay fresh and engaged. Our Foundation also hosted an educational tour the day after the conference, where we did four different trips into the townships to learn about life there, particularly as it related to LGBT travel. We had a cultural tour, one focusing on children with HIV (Khumbulani Day Care Center), and a tour of Cape Town LGBT Pride Shelter, the only LGBT shelter home in Cape Town, and in fact the only one on the continent.

And we had one lighthearted one where we did worked with the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds to learn about how they are helping injured penguins.


Travel Pulse: Are there any new initiatives for IGLTA?

John Tanzella: We just signed an agreement with the European Travel Commission to help member countries with developing education on LGBT travel and how it affects their destination and how they can reach out to travelers so they feel welcome. We announced on May 1 to coincide with International Day Against Homophobia–Europe has been a leader on these issues.

Then we have two programs our Foundation is working on. First, we’ve teamed with the Penn State Dept. of Tourism and Research to do a program with our travel agents and tour operator members to see what they’re spending, what trends they’re seeing as buyers and how they are marketing to the LGBT market. The second project is a global research program looking at trends in LGBT travel across all sectors that is being done in conjunction with the United Nations.

This is huge as we’re the only LGBT organization that’s a member of the UN World Tourism Organization. One of their three areas of focus for 2016 is LGBT tourism and how that affects global tourism. Be on the lookout as we will be announcing the results of this study in Madrid in October.

Travel Pulse:  What’s on the horizon for IGLTA as an organization?

John Tanzella: Besides our research projects, the path we are trying to pave is growing our consumer reach to help market our members so that gay travelers around the world are using our members to book their travel. We’ve started a strong B2C program, doing promotions with members online, highlighting them in social media and trying to direct consumers to use our members so people come to think of them as the voice of the gay traveler.

For 32 years we were B2B. Now, because we’re global, we’re trying to appeal more to LGBT travelers and the agents who want to book for them. Members who join want to get business from the community, and we’re trying to facilitate that and it continues to grow each quarter with outreach.

For anyone interested in learning more about LGBT tourism and meeting suppliers, we are giving travel agents a free registration to our convention. They just need to contact us and fill out a form. It’s a great opportunity for agents to meet people who are interested in helping them along. Agents can also sign up for our weekly newsletter and learn about what’s going on in LGBT travel and upcoming events.

Travel Pulse: Is IGLTA seeing any trends in LGBT travel that agents should be aware of?

John Tanzella: It's such a mixed bag like anywhere else — the community is as diverse as any other so people are interested in luxury but also budget travel, urban trips vs. adventure travel, you name it. We are seeing growth now in experiential travel like safaris to far-reaching places in Africa. Luxury cruises have really grown a lot, whether small groups or couples. And, LGBT weddings and honeymoons are a boom, too.

The market typically gets recognized as being first adopters.  Our membership is in 80 countries so our tour operators have always been selling Cuba, but for our U.S. members we’ve already seen several booking for group travel. It’s hot for the American market. It doesn’t have the stigma of other countries in the world, where it’s illegal to be gay. 


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