Last updated: 10:15 AM ET, Mon July 06 2015

Understanding the Chinese LGBT Traveler

Features & Advice | International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association | Ryan Rudnansky | April 17, 2015

Understanding the Chinese LGBT Traveler

Image courtesy of Thinkstock

If you work in the travel industry, chances are you’re well aware by now that the Chinese traveler presents a lucrative opportunity moving forward.

But cater to the LGBT community within China and you may have yourself a gold mine.

Chinese travelers are being targeted heavily now in the travel industry, and so is the LGBT community in a world that is becoming more LGBT-friendly.  

But targeting the Chinese LGBT traveler will only get travel companies so far. Companies need to truly understand this segment.

So, what do travel companies need to know about the Chinese LGBT traveler?

Those present at the 2015 IGLTA Global Annual Convention got some answers about the Chinese LGBT traveler in a session titled “From Pink Dollar to Pink Yuan: How to Engage China’s Emerging LGBT Travelers,” presented by Charlie Gu of China Luxury Advisors.

First of all, it’s important to realize just how big of an opportunity travel companies have with China’s LGBT community. As Gu noted in his report, an estimated 3-5 percent of China’s population is lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. That translates to 40-70 million people, the largest LGBT population in the world. LGBT Capital estimates China’s “Pink Economy” is worth approximately $300 billion in spending power.

China’s Gay Male Traveler

ZANK, China’s leading gay social app (for men only), recently conducted a survey of gay men in the country to provide more information on the demographic.

Over 60 percent of respondents on ZANK were between 23 and 28 years old. On top of that, 88 percent of respondents said they had a college degree or above, adding to the perception that the gay community is more affluent.

It’s also important to note that 70 percent of respondents lived in six major cities in China: Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu, Wuhan, Guangzhou and Shenzhen. In sense, Chinese gay men appear similar to the American gay community. Thomas Roth and David Paisley of Community Marketing, Inc. pointed out in a separate session that American gay males predominantly live in urban areas.

The survey also revealed that more than one-third of Chinese gay men (34 percent) had traveled abroad in the past 12 months.

Those surveyed by ZANK also noted that they preferred to travel with close friends (72 percent) or by themselves (43 percent) over traveling with colleagues and family (19 percent).

Scenery (25 percent), quality of food (22 percent) and the local culture (17 percent) affect the traveling decisions of the segment the most, concurrent with the Chinese population in general.

Chinese gay men, like the general population, are also major electronics consumers. Nearly all of those surveyed (99 percent) said they owned a smartphone, while laptops (85 percent) and tablets (59 percent) were also popular. The iPhone ruled when it came to smartphones (owned by 61 percent of those surveyed).

How to Engage the Chinese LGBT Traveler

When it comes to the LGBT community as a whole, it’s important to keep a few things in mind.

First of all, if you are a travel company catering to the Chinese LGBT community, it’s almost a requirement to invest in technology and social media outreach if you expect to become a preferred brand.

The first reason why is a given: Chinese LGBT travelers, and Chinese travelers in general, love electronics, the Internet and mobile devices (as proven in the ZANK survey).

A few campaigns illustrate the effectiveness of online marketing to the segment, Gu said.

The “We Do” contest hosted by online shopping platform Taobao offered LGBT couples the chance to win an all-expenses-paid trip to Los Angeles to get married (China has yet to recognize same-sex marriage or civil unions). The contest drummed up a lot of positive publicity for parent company Alibaba.

“Rainbow Family,” China’s first LGBT-themed sitcom, generated 20 million views on Youku (China’s YouTube) in its first season without any advertising. That’s 600,000 views per episode. Needless to say, that show is returning for a second season. It has also opened up another opportunity to sell merchandise from the show.

The second reason why marketing through social media and the Internet can be so effective is because the LGBT community is largely an underground community (Case in point: gay men predominantly traveling with close friends, 90 percent of Chinese gay men reportedly married to women). In this sense, social media platforms and forums are major channels of communication for LGBT travelers who don’t feel comfortable talking openly in public. It’s not that China is necessarily against homosexuality; it has more to do with the pressure to procreate in the country, Gu noted.

In the ZANK survey, 57 percent of gay men said they had shared a travel or shopping experience on social media, and 67 percent said they used people’s shared experiences on social media as a basis for their own traveling decisions.

WeChat, Weibo, QQ and ZANK—the dominant social media platforms in China—are good places to start for travel companies looking to capture the country’s LGBT market. Leveraging popular Chinese shows and movies in marketing campaigns is also a good idea.

Beyond that, pushing travel products that center around topics that interest LGBT couples—such as marriage, immigration and assisted reproduction—can also draw Chinese consumers.

And, given the Chinese LGBT community is mostly supported by non-profit organizations, it also pays to build strong relationships with these community-based organizations, Gu said.

There is that issue of censorship in China, of course. A representative from Hilton asked during the session about the legal obstacles to marketing to LGBT travelers in the country.  

In this respect, Gu said the Chinese government doesn’t really care about marketing to the LGBT community. On the other hand, what can cause issues is China’s censorship policies in general. China is highly sensitive to images and public gathering advocacy, Gu said.

Last but not least, be prepared. Gu said a lot of companies say they’re prepared to welcome LGBT travelers, but many of them don’t do the research necessary or completely disregard the bisexual and transgender community.



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