BY STEVE ROTHAUS, srothaus@MiamiHerald.com
Miami Beach hotelier Karen Brown understands both sides of the gay travel market. As general manager of The Angler’s Boutique Resort on Washington Avenue, Brown says about 20 percent of her hotel clientele is lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. Even more LGBT people (about 30 percent) dine at The Angler’s on-site restaurant.
“Everyone is welcome,” Brown said. “We have seniors we call “silver foxes” sitting next to Craig and Steve, next to six girls here for girly spring break weekend.”International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association, a Wilton Manors-based organization with 2,200 members in 88 countries that this week is holding its annual convention at home in Fort Lauderdale. Five hundred business are participating in the conference and 3,000 locals are expected at a Friday night street fair in Wilton Manors.
“It’s going to be the Super Bowl of gay travel opportunities,” Brown says, “to educate, to learn, to see how the gay travel world has evolved with new technology, politics, new laws, travel habits, financial abilities.”
The convention, which runs Tuesday through Sunday, is hosted by the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau. Also participating are the Greater Miami and Florida Keys convention and visitors bureaus, as well as the Miami-Dade Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce.
The past decade has brought a sea change in the global gay travel industry. Many of the world’s largest airlines and hotel companies now actively recruit gay travelers and employees.
“Before you might have had a rogue gay person who had the guts to go after the market if their company accepted it,’’ Brown said. Today, marketing to the gay community has become so commonplace that it’s a standard part of the strategy for many travel companies and destinations, she said.
This year’s convention workshops will focus on how social media has impacted the travel industry, said IGLTA President/CEO John Tanzella of Fort Lauderdale.
Brown, who will emcee the travel association’s gala dinner Saturday night, said this is her first IGLTA convention. “I hope to widen my already broad travel scope of the gay market.”
The gay travel association “represents hospitality legitimacy,” she said.
“So many people around the world have different experiences,” Brown said. “We take it for granted how open our society is here in Miami Beach. Whereas other members of IGLTA have very different backgrounds where they’re not as free.”
In addition to typically gay friendly spots as Brazil, Great Britain and Australia, IGLTA members also hail from socially conservative nations including Jamaica, Turkey, Poland and Lebanon.
IGLTA began 28 years ago in Fort Lauderdale with 25 members. “They were gay guesthouse owners and gay travel agents who wanted to work together and promote each others’ businesses,” Tanzella said.
Today, leading IGLTA partners include American Airlines, Delta, Caesars Entertainment, Hyatt and MGM Resorts. British Airways, Hilton, Macy’s and Marriott are also major partners.
IGLTA employs eight full- and part-time employees with satellite offices in Washington, D.C., Chicago and Paris.
“We are not a travel agency. We are a trade organization,” Tanzella said. Visit IGLTA’s website and you’ll immediately find a customized “LGBT Travel Search” function that identifies location-specific contact information including gay-friendly hotels, travel agents, airlines and tourist offices.
Membership in the organization, said Tanzella, is equivalent to a seal of approval for gay travelers. “When they go to IGLTA’s website, they are going to find options that are interesting to them’’ -- such as gay-friendly tour companies and lodging.
“We have a code of ethics [members] have to abide by," he said. "They’re going to be welcome to — and not discriminate against — gay and lesbian travelers.”
GAY TRAVEL SPENDING
- American LGBT travelers spend more than $45 billion annually, the most of all gay travelers worldwide, according to Out Now Global, a gay marketing agency.
- Brazilian gays rank No. 2, spending $20 billion.
- Japanese gays rank No. 3, spending $17.7 billion.
- For gay men 18-35, Miami is No. 7, according to Community Marketing, another gay research company.
- Gay men 36-54, Fort Lauderdale is No. 6 and Miami No. 10.
- Gay men 55 and up, Fort Lauderdale in No. 5.