Across the range of industries that I am involved with — digital and print media, publishing, PR, advertising, and travel — none is more heavily dependent on networking than the travel industry, especially the small but vibrant gay travel industry. This group is comprised of a wide variety of professionals from travel agents to guesthouse owners to journalists to destination marketers. Most have at least two key attributes in common: an unquenchable passion for travel and a gut feel for true hospitality.
The love of travel unites members of the gay travel industry in an exciting pursuit. There is nothing like the good-natured one-upmanship you’ll find at our networking events when swapping the question, ‘where have you traveled to lately?’. In addition, the sense of hospitality makes gatherings truly warm and enjoyable affairs. Typically I’m not a joiner. I’m a reluctant attendee of meetings, and I have rarely run for office in any group I belong to. The exception for me is travel gatherings. I love meeting the friends I’ve made over the years in the gay travel industry — an integrated mix of gay women and men — all united by their love of travel.
I started in this industry in 1997, and I remain friends with people I met then, some of whom had started much earlier. The industry itself is only 40 years old so there are people at networking events who were there from the beginning, imbuing a sense of living history to this young, evolving segment.
Member of this industry typically are not in it for the money (ask a freelance travel writer or a small guesthouse owner) but rather for the opportunity to travel or share one’s treasured destination, attraction or B&B with fellow travelers. We get to do so primarily at two important annual gatherings, including the International Conference on Gay & Lesbian Tourism, hosted by CMI (CommunityMarketing.com), founed in 1992, and the IGLTA Annual Global Convention, organized by the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association (IGLTA.org), founded in 1983. This year Antwerp is IGLTA’s host city.
Since this is such a supportive industry even putative competitors support each other, and share information. The best breakout sessions at these gatherings involve companies or destinations revealing what might be closely-guarded proprietary information in other industries. It’s especially important in gay travel for a mainstream company (like a hotel chain) that is interested in the gay market to appear at these key networking events almost as much as their actual consumer marketing efforts in the media or elsewhere. It shows a level of seriousness and commitment that is noted by other attendees. The picture here is from last year’s IGLTA convention in Toronto.