The global LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) travel market is big – over USS200 billion in annual spend, and is growing. One market, which is slowly but surely contributing to this growth, is China.
Although homosexuality is a sensitive topic in China, where traditional family values are strongly valued, there is a growing LGBT community in the country. It consists of young, highly educated people with the median age of 23, with 60% possessing a bachelor’s degree or greater. They reside in first tier cities such as Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen, and are very mobile savvy. They also tend to make leisure trips frequently.
The young in China are very accepting to the LGBT community with over 60% of those in the 18-24 age groups seeing no issue with being openly gay, and over 20% aged 24-34 sharing the same sentiment.
These findings are revealed in the Inaugural LGBT China Tourism & Hospitality Study December 2014 conducted by San Francisco based Community Marketing & Insights (CMI).
This community is also becoming “the hard core LGBT travellers in the years to come,” states the report. The potential for outbound travel for this group is huge, and they are travelling all over the world with Bangkok, Hong Kong, Singapore, Bali and Tokyo as the top destinations in Asia for these travellers.
CMI, which has been conducting LGBT consumer research for over 20 years, said that “while the survey respondents do not represent ‘all’ LGBT Chinese, they do represent those who are connected to the LGBT community.”
The online survey was conducted between November 9-24, 2014 with 788 respondents aged 18 and above residing in China. Some of the key findings:
- Chinese LGBTs’ travel increased in all categories in the past year. 82% of respondents took leisure trips, while 25% are frequent travellers taking more than five leisure trips per year. 19% of them took five or more round trip flights, and 61% spent five or more nights in hotel in the past year.
- Travel behaviours are different among genders. Compared with gay and bisexual men, lesbian and bisexual women are more likely to identify themselves as higher price range travellers (39% vs.20%), less likely to identify as economy/budget travellers (48% vs.60%), and more likely to travel overseas and to Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan (31% vs.22%).
- Budget hotel (1 and 2 star), mid-range hotel (3 star), small Bed & Breakfast, inn or guesthouse, and upscale/luxury hotel are the most popular accommodations among Chinese LGBTs.
- Lesbian and bisexual women are more likely to stay at upscale/luxury hotel (32% vs. 20%) than gay and bisexual men. Value of price for hotel quality, location and low price are the most important motivators for Chinese LGBTs when choosing a hotel.
- Fine dining (63%) is the most important destination influencer followed by history/historic sites (39%), overall cost of trip (39%), climate (32%), and waterfront (e.g., beach) (30%).
- Gay and bisexual men are more driven by local LGBT life compared to lesbian and bisexual women (33% vs.23%). Students consider a destination’s arts and museum scene as a bigger influencer than young professionals under 30 (28% vs. 13%).
- For domestic travel, 72% of Chinese LGBTs took at least one leisure trip in mainland China with Beijing, Shanghai, Hangzhou and Chengdu as the most popular destinations.
- For LGBT events travel, 16% of those who travelled within mainland China indicated they attended local LGBT events during their trips. The most popular LGBT events are Pride, LGBT culture/arts/film events, LGBT circuit party/dance events and lesbian community events.
- For international travel and travel to Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan, 25% of respondents indicated they took at least one leisure trip to these destinations. Lesbian and bisexual women outperform gay and bisexual men by 9% (31% vs. 22%).
- Among the international travellers, 93% visited Asia, 13% visited Europe, 13% visited America, 5% visited Oceania and 2% visited Africa.
- When selecting an international destination these are very important criteria to the travellers: safety (87%) flexible visa rules (60%), and laws to protect LGBT people (45%)
- For a dream vacation, LGBT Chinese would like to visit various developed countries around the world and well-known LGBT friendly countries.
- Chinese LGBTs are actively using their mobile devices for travel purposes. 92% of lesbian and bisexual women and 85% of gay and bisexual men have used their mobile devices during and/or when planning a trip. Most popular activities are looking at local maps/directions (86%), finding restaurant/dining information (77%), booking hotel/lodging (75%), and researching destination attractions (68%).
- Lesbian and bisexual women are more likely to review photos or other people’s rating about the destination, attractions, or hotels (65% vs. 54%), book flights (54% vs. 44%) and look up flight status (50% vs. 36%) using mobile devices.
- Gay and bisexual men are more likely to research the local LGBT scene (36% vs. 25%) and date people while on a trip (26% vs. 5%).
“In my opinion, LGBT marketing in China is just in infancy and we need to be patient. There are big opportunities there in the foreseeable future, and what we need to do now is to cultivate the market and educate the consumers by working with various LGBT organisations and events, “ said Lu Xun, research manager at CMI. “For the travel market specifically, we’ve seen more trips and spending from the female (lesbian and bisexual women) sector, which we should keep in mind. However, the visa policies in most developed countries are not friendly enough to these legally singles, which might be a potential risk when marketing to these segments.”
However, this has not deterred travel companies, including cruises, from cultivating this large relatively untapped market. Most say these travellers do not need any special requirements or services; they just wanted to be treated like any other tourists.
One company doing just that is Hong Kong based Dorsett Hospitality International. The hotel group has many properties in the markets popular with these travellers, which give it a competitive advantage.
Dorsett is also becoming a member of the International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association, which will endorse the hotel group as LGBT-friendly.