Palette Magazine

Q&A: John Tanzella, President and CEO of IGLTA

By Daniel Shoer Roth

It is a well-documented statistic that gay men and lesbians travel more widely than their straight counterparts. We also tend to venture out to far-flung places. As a result, hundreds of businesses in more than 80 countries court around the world, welcome and support these intrepid explorers. These businesses are members of the International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association (IGLTA), which is based in Fort Lauderdale.

Q: Why was the IGLTA founded?

A: In 1983, here in South Florida, to help gay and lesbian clientele find somewhere safe to stay. It was begun by an underground network of LGBT travel agents and gay guesthouse owners. They would send each other customers because back then there was no prominent advertising of gay travel in the United States.

Q: How does the organization function?

A: A lot of what we do is marketing; it depends on where you are. If you are in a very gay-friendly country such as Canada, we do it more from a marketing perspective. But if you are in a developing country or you are an emerging LGBT destination, we would help fund their membership and promote them to travelers so they are able to get some business from the community.

Q: What does it mean to be an LGBTQ-friendly destination?

A: One where the tourism board actively reaches out to the community, whether it’s through training for the hospitality industry, creating LGBT specific websites for travelers, getting engaged in the local gay community. Beyond that, basically if there are things for people in our community to do and are marketed to. It doesn’t have to be gay nightlife per se, but it could be a film or wine festival.

Q: How much has the LGBTQ travel industry grown and what countries are trending?

A: The market has grown but it has also evolved. Ten years ago, we didn’t have corporate partners. Now, these massive mainstream companies are interested in the gay traveler. If you look at it from the corporate sector reaching out, the U.S. by far is the largest, but you are starting to see it everywhere, even in far reaching places in Latin America. In trends, Southern Africa has been huge and Southeast Asia. Gay and lesbian travelers tend to be early adapters to new places. Myanmar is now open; Cambodia is becoming popular; Vietnam; Cuba as well, for Americans.

Q: Homosexuality is still criminalized in many places. How dangerous is it for LGBTQ travelers?

A: Whether you are straight or gay, you need to abide by the laws. Just be smart and do your research before. So it’s just a matter of being mindful of the culture. But we never tell somebody not go anywhere. The State Department came out with a link on their website for Americans traveling abroad, specifically for LGBT travel, and the reason they did that was because they know, no matter what they say, gay people are still going to go.