They say the single worst question you could ask a woman next to how much she weighs, is her age. But asking this question (and others) of the Black lesbian traveler is critical to catering to this often overlooked and untapped audience of jetsetters.
Who is the Black lesbian traveler? And why don’t we know more about her?
What does the Black lesbian traveler look like? Where does she live? How much does she make? Is she married? Does she have kids?
The answers to these questions are largely unknown.
“Most travel corporations are just beginning to understand that within LGBT, there are many subgroups, by gender, age, ethnicity and more,” explains David Paisley, Senior Research Director at Community Marketing, Inc. “Most complete research on the community as a whole. So while there is little research on Black lesbian travel trends, there is also little research on LGBT [people] under 35, our elders, or the LGBT Latino or Asian communities [as well].”
Last year, Community Marketing Inc., a leading LGBT marketing agency, released its 17th annual gay and lesbian tourism report for 2012, providing insight into leisure and business travel trends. While the report did not specifically study Black LGBT travel tendencies, it did give us a glimpse at lesbians in general.
The research found that for the majority of lesbians (58%) traveling to their most recent vacation destination was for rest and relaxation. Thirty percent traveled most recently to visit friends or family. The report also revealed that forty percent of all lesbians travel for business.
But travel trends in the African American community suggest that the broad-based LGBT findings might not apply specifically to Black lesbians and their unique needs.
According to the Travel Industry Association (TIA), the majority of African American trips (74%) are for leisure, with 44 percent traveling to visit friends or relatives. Twenty-two percent of African American trips are taken for business, including combined business and pleasure purposes. The Minority Traveler reports that compared to travelers overall, nearly three times as many African American trips involve group tours (10% vs. 3%).
Denise Madison and Tania Marie Savigne, specialists at Cruise One, a travel franchise that offers cruise vacations, cater specifically to the traveler living (and vacationing) at the intersection of these statistics.
“Black lesbians are a viable consumer force and are ever-growing in affluence,” says Madison. “We embrace catering to the Black lesbian community. We realized that it was needed.”
This realization is based on very valid challenges and concerns.
A travel resource for African American women shared that although travel is secondary to their primary goal of opening the minds of Black women to possibilities of dating men of other cultures and races, out of the 300+ women that have traveled with them over the years, three were known to be lesbians.
When interviewed after their tour, all three stated that the tours did not fit their needs and that they felt out of place. One woman attempted to hide the fact that she was gay in order to fit in. A straight traveler even left the vacation early after a lesbian traveler made sexual advances.
Recognizing the growing demand for space and intentional travel options for Black lesbian women, Madison and Savigne began offering LGBT cruises and vacations to this niche market and overlooked clientele.
Cruise One’s first all women’s group cruise drew one hundred women. Five years later, the duo is gearing up for their sixth annual all women’s Halloween cruise in 2013.
“We encourage Black lesbian travelers to get out there and experience the world while letting the world experience them,” adds Madison.
In addition to the success of Cruise One’s targeted options for women (check out www.InternationalLGBT.com and www.LezRockTheBoat.com), the turnout at annual Black-lesbian-centered vacations is proof of the strength of this market.
Each year, thousands of Black and Latina lesbians travel to Miami for SweetHeat, what Florida-based DJ and event planner DJ Dimples calls the “ultimate getaway” for women who love women. For four days, brown and beautiful bikini-clad women take over the bars and beaches of South Beach.
Provincetown, Mass. also draws an impressive group of hundreds of Black lesbians during their annual Women of Color Weekend, an opportunity to celebrate and build community with other likeminded ladies.
“The LGBT dollar is strong,” explains Laurence Pinckney, Owner and Founder of Zenbiz Travel. “Corporations are missing the boat by not specifically targeting the Black LGBT market as they do the general market.”
This year’s GLBT Travel Expo is seeking to change that by harnessing the power of the media and building strategic community partnerships with outlets such as Ikons Magazine, Circle of Voices, Our Sista Circle and ELIXHER.
“With the addition of our community partners, we strongly believe we are stepping into an extraordinary area of discovery with the new stories that will be told,” says Steven Levenberg, Executive Producer and Founder of the GLBT Travel Expo Tour.
These groups will highlight the travel wants and needs of the Black LGBT community and the Expo will dutifully relay the information to its corporate sponsors and vendors. They will bring all of us one step closer to learning who exactly is the Black lesbian traveler and getting everyone from researchers to marketing firms to companies to start catering to her.
“At Cruise One we know exactly who the Black lesbian is–she is us,” adds Madison, who along with Savigne identifies as a lesbian. “She wants to enjoy culture, food, music, literature, history and events across the globe. Sometimes she works with a budget. Sometimes she travels carte blanche. She is a savvy consumer and knows what she wants.”
It’s about time we all get to know her.
– Kimberley McLeod
Kimberley McLeod is a DC-based media strategist. She is the founder and editor of ELIXHER, an online destination for Black lesbian, bisexual and transgender women.