Running from May 9 to May 12, 2018 and held at the Westin Harbour Castle, the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association’s 35th Global Convention is gearing up to be one of the most educational and interactive networking events yet, with several highly-celebrated keynote speakers taking the stage.
And, after speaking with John Tanzella, president and CEO of IGLTA, it's clear that the organization has a lot to offer to Canada's travel trade community.
“When you look back at the organization [IGLTA] 35 years ago and see what it was; the size, the scope, and who are sponsors were, and the media who were interested in us, that didn’t really exist past the gay and lesbian community,” Tanzella explained. “It’s really grown now to incorporate representatives from more than 80 countries, where we have business members and mainstream media publications who are eager to learn more about the LGBT travel market. Now, we have government entities who want to be involved with us, and who want information on the gay and lesbian travel market, and we wouldn’t have even been on their radar 35 years ago.”
From small beginnings to major milestones
The IGLTA started in south Florida out as a small team of approximately 25 gay and lesbian travel professionals who were looking for ways to collaborate in order to ensure that their travellers were having a safe and enjoyable time while vacationing around the world.
Now, the organization is a leading resource for LGBTQ travel, providing free resources and information to the public, while striving to promote equality and safety to the LGBTQ travel community. “Fast-forward 35 years, we’re now doing business in more than 80 countries, with tour operators doing business in more than 100 countries,” Tanzella explained. “This year, we’ve chosen Toronto; it’s such a diverse and welcoming community, and holding such a significant event here just made sense.”
The majority of this year’s IGLTA conference revolves around networking opportunities. Attendees will have the chance to participate in a buyer/supplier marketplace and multiple educational sessions on the latest LGBTQ trends, marketing strategies, human rights issues, and sustainability.
Takeaways for travel agents
Travel agents who are looking to break into the LGBTQ travel market will have the opportunity to discuss one-on-one with suppliers, and even have the chance to pitch to global outlets and influencers during a media networking event. “A lot of the conference is on education and scope, so they [travel agents] would have the opportunity to attend general sessions and breakout sessions that deal with specifics like travel trends and data, which would help them understand the LGBTQ market, while learning tips on how to go after that market,” Tanzella said. “There’s a lot of business to be made in the LGBT travel sector.”
In 2014, IGLTA launched a special segment for the conference, called ‘Women in Business’. This year, ‘Women in Business’ will be presented by an entrepreneur from Iceland who has made a successful career in the travel industry. The session allows female travellers to come together and discuss business ideas, while networking with like-minded professionals.
While this year’s conference is packed full of valuable information, Tanzella shared his findings with PAX ahead of time on some of the trends arising from the LGBT travel community. “We’re seeing a growing interest in family travel and adventure travel, and in our community its very common to go out and explore new destinations that are just coming onto the radar for tourism,” Tanzella said. “These are far-reaching corners of the earth, and we also see a lot of increase on an interest in ocean and river cruising.”
What to expect
Several high-profile guests will be in attendance this year, including the High Commissioner of LGBT Affairs from the United Nations, who will speak on issues surrounding human rights and tourism; and the President and CEO of the Global Sustainable Tourism Council coming from Bangkok, Thailand. Last year, there were approximately 400 attendees at the IGLTA’s conference, but this time around in Toronto, Tanzella predicts that more than 500 people will be there, representing 37 countries.
“If travel agents are looking to learn about the market and create product for clients in the market, this is the conference on LGBT tourism to be at,” Tanzella said. “It’s great for connecting with other LGBT professionals around the world, both on the buyers’ side and the suppliers’ side. You’re going to meet people who are well-established, thought leaders in the community for travel and tourism.”
And, with a new award called the 2018 Pinnacle Award, honourinng Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Tanzella is hopeful Trudeau himself will drop by the awards gala, happening on the last evening of conference at the Fairmont Royal York Hotel. "Canada's Prime Minister is a leader in the world stage for welcoming diversity, in particular our community," Tanzella said. "Our fingers are crossed he [Trudeau] is able to come."
Registration is still open, and late registration pricing for the IGLTA’s 35th annual conference comes into effect May 1.