As part of their master in Tourism Destination Management study program, the students have written literature reviews in the domain of “International Tourism Context”. In this sixth and final literature review Mandy Wientjens talks about the LGBT tourism market: its quest for more heterogeneity.


Although once a nearly ignored segment of the international travel market, the LGBT tourist has received an increased level of attention in the last two decades from academic researchers as well as business practitioners. So far a major part of the academic research conducted in this field has investigated in what way the motivations and consumer behavior of the LGBT segment does or does not differ from the mainstream market (Clift and Forrest, 1999; Holcomb and Luongo, 1996; Hughes, 1997, 2002, 2006; Monterrubio, 2009; Poria and Tailor, 2001; Pritchard et al., 1998, 2000).

Although previous research has made clear that there are substantial differences, the question can be raised whether this research is representative for the whole LGBT market, and thus whether this market can be seen as a homogenous market segment. In this light, it has been argued that there are significant differences within the LGBT market when it comes to age (Hughes and Deutsch, 2010; Pritchard et al, 1998) and gender (Hughes, 2006; Pritchard et al., 2002; Puar, 2002). As such, the purpose of this literature review is to discuss the consumer behavior characteristic of the LGBT tourism segment, while special attention is devoted to a more nuanced view of differences among LGBT consumers.

Within the academic literature there seems to be a widespread consensus that the LGBT tourism market features characteristics that are regarded as particularly favorable for the tourism industry, like higher average disposable incomes, more repeat visits, and less seasonal behavior (Pritchard et al, 1998). As a result improved knowledge of the consumer behavior of potential sub segments of the LGBT tourism market will be of interest not only to academics but to business practice as well.

The LGBT tourism market

Existing studies suggest that gay and lesbian tourists share much in common with tourists in the straight community. As such, it is argued that travel motivations like relaxation, escape, freedom, social interaction, prestige, ego-enhancement, and self-fulfillment are equally important to the LGBT tourist as they are to the mainstream market (Clift and Forrest, 1999; Hughes et al., 1997, 2006; Pritchard et al., 2000).

Research suggests however that the motivations and consumer behavior of LGBT tourists differ from the mainstream market in a number of ways. The fundament for this difference lies in the power of the dominant heterosexual mileu which causes LGBT tourists to consider their sexuality when making tourism choices where their heterosexual counterparts would not (Pritchard et al., 2000).

It is argued that the decision-making process of LGBT tourists is influenced by specific push and pull factors that lead them to choose specific destinations, while avoiding others (Hughes, 2002). Push factors, such as social disapproval, discrimination, criminalization, the desire to be oneself, and the desire to relate to others, create the need for LGBT tourists to ensure that destinations visited are safe and comfortable. Pull factors on the other hand, such as a tolerant atmosphere, gay-friendly accommodation and gay space, draw LGBT tourists to specific destinations.

As a result of these push and pull factors, many LGBT tourists opt for holidays with a gaycentric or gay-related character (Hughes, 2002). When choosing for a gay-centric holiday, one is specifically looking for a destination that provides ‘gay space’, such as bars, clubs, restaurants and shops, where the gay identity can be validated by relationships with others (Hughes, 1997; Monterrubio, 2009). Others are looking for a gay-related holiday, meaning that the existence of gayfriendly places and gay space is highly valued, but not the main attributes looked for in a holiday (Hughes, 2002).

Applying a more nuanced view

Much of the research conducted in this field solely focuses on the experiences of young, white, upper class, gay men (Hughes, 1997). The sensitive nature of sexual orientation has forced many researchers to adopt a small-scale, qualitative research approach, recruiting most respondents from their personal networks and via so-called snowballing. This self-selecting nature of respondents strongly affects the representativeness of these studies (Hughes and Deutsch, 2010) and could hence lead to a misleading homogenous picture of ‘the’ gay tourist who is looking for a ‘gay’ holiday.

Pritchard et al. (1998) are among the first academics who acknowledge the importance of a more nuanced view of the LGBT market. They argue that “when discussing any particular market segment, there is a danger of defining it on the basis of one overriding factor” (p.274). As such, retirees are defined in terms of their occupational status, seniors and young people in terms of their age and, in this specific case, LGBT people in terms of their sexual orientation. Pritchard et al. explain however, that by applying such a simplistic definition, one fails to consider the totality of people’s experiences by disregarding other important variables that define the lives of people, such as gender, race, age, social class and familial status. Interrelating people’s sexual orientation with knowledge about some of these other variables could lead to a more nuanced view of the LGBT market.

The first and arguably most important variable one should take into consideration is gender. The few studies in the field that have included women show that there are substantial differences in the holiday preferences and experiences of lesbian women and gay men (Pritchard et al., 2000, 2002; Puar, 2002; Poria, 2006; Hughes, 2006). These differences originate from the fact that “tourism revolves around social interaction and social articulations of motivations, desires, traditions and perceptions, all of which are gendered” (Kinnaird et al., 1994, p.24). Existing work suggests that lesbians often don’t feel comfortable due to the patriarchic dominance of gay men in the typical ‘gay’ destinations (Hughes, 2006). The common lack of lesbian facilities in such destinations further contributes to this feeling (Pritchard et al., 2002). The dominance of gay men and lack of lesbian facilities hence reduce the previously mentioned pull factors that make ‘gay’ destinations so attractive to gay men. Interestingly, Hughes (2006) suggests that social acceptance, one of the push factors, also differs for men and women. He states “the relative ease with which two women, compared with two men, holidaying together, will be accepted and the apparent lesser emphasis on sexual activity on holiday may open up destinations that gay men may not consider” (p. 24). As a result lesbians are less likely to opt for the typical ‘gay’ destination.

Another difference resulting from gender might be of specific interest to tourism practice. Although it is commonly believed that the LGBT consumer has a higher disposable income than their straight counterparts, Puar (2002) states that such a profitability statement misrepresents the lesbian population, resulting from a lower average income of women.

Also age has been described as a factor that can be used to define sub-segments in the LGBT market. Surprisingly, although age is regularly mentioned to be a potential influential variable (Pritchard et al., 1998), only one study can be identified that focuses exclusively on the relationship between age and sexual orientation. In this work Hughes and Deutsch (2010) argue that the older gay men’s profile is shaped by both sexual orientation and age influences. For instance, whereas older gay men share the preference for gay-friendliness with their younger counterparts, they clearly differ on other factors as a result of age. Hughes and Deutsch illustrate the latter by stating that “the life experiences of older and younger gay men have differed considerably and have given rise to an intergenerational gap” (p.455), that leaves older gay men with an uncomfortable feeling in the presence of young gay men. Consequently, this age gap leads them to avoid the typical ‘gay holiday’ that is characterized by a total immersion in the gay scene. Furthermore, it is shown that older gay men seem to have a stronger preference for adventure and culture, attach more importance to luxury, and tend to avoid sex-oriented holidays. The authors thereby emphasize that older gay men have as much in common with their younger counterparts as with the older heterosexual population and hence deserve to be acknowledged as a legitimate sub-segment in the LGBT market.

Although the definition of sub-segments, based on the previously described demographic variables, is an important step towards a more nuanced view of the LGBT market, one should nonetheless be careful to assume these sub-segments themselves are homogenous. In this light Pritchard et al. (1998) illustrate the importance of attitudinal and ideological factors. Several interviewees in their study clearly indicate for instance that they are not interested to spend their holiday in gay destinations, resulting from a fear of ghetto-isolation. This attitude is further supported by Hughes and Deutsch (2010), who state that many of their respondents “desire an ‘inclusion scenario’, where it did not matter who they booked with, where they went or where they stayed” (p.460). Furthermore, Hughes (2002) indicates that the particular orientation of the gay scene does not appeal to many LGBT consumers and leads them to deliberately avoid gay destinations. This is in stark contrast to the earlier described attitudes and motivations that lead other’s in the LGBT community to opt for ‘gay’ destinations.


The previous discussion supports the notion that the LGBT market is a heterogeneous group of men and women who, despite their common bonds, have diverse identities and motivations (Pritchard et al., 2002). Failure to acknowledge this heterogeneity will leave tourism practice with false assumptions, obstructing an effective hunt for the so called ‘pink pound’.

Although research to date has focused mainly on differences among LGBT tourists in gender and age, the list of potential variables is infinite. For instance, due to increased acceptance of homosexuality in society, a growing number of same-sex couples have kids. It seems reasonable to believe that kids have a substantial influence on the holiday motivations and behavior of same-sex couples. This group of consumers might be less interested in visiting a gay destination, but still have needs that differentiate them from mainstream families, such as gay-friendly accommodation. Also, where it is commonly believed that the LGBT tourism market is characterized by high disposable incomes, less seasonal behavior, and few family responsibilities (Pritchard et al., 1998), this might be less so for same-sex couples with kids.

There are more factors however that deserve attention in future research. It is reasonable to believe for instance that LGBT tourists who are in a relationship have different preferences than tourists who are single. In the same light, people who are still in the closet are likely to behave differently than openly gay consumers. Also socio-economic factors like occupation and level of education are likely to cause heterogeneity among LGBT consumers. Although it is not within the scope of this literature review to provide a complete list of potential influential variables, it does make clear that research into LGBT tourism is still in its infancy and that a more nuanced view is necessary to fully grasp the potential of this niche market.


Clift , S. & Forrest, S. (1999) Gay Men and Tourism: Destinations and Holiday Motivations. Tourism Management, V20N5, p. 615-625.

Holcomb, B. & Luongo, M. (1996) Gay Tourism in the United States. Annals of Tourism Research, V23N 3, p. 695-726.

Hughes, H. (1997) Holidays and Homosexual Identity. Tourism Management, V18N1.

Hughes, H. (2002) Gay Men’s Holiday Destination Choice: A Case of Risk and Avoidance. International Journal of Travel Research, V4, p299-312.

Hughes, H. (2006) Pink Tourism: Holidays of Gay Men and Lesbians. Oxfordshire, CABI Publishing.

Hughes, H. (2006) Lesbians as Tourists: Poor Relations of a Poor Relation. Tourism and Hospitality Research, V7N1, p. 17-26.

Hughes, H. & Deutsch R. (2010) Holidays of older Gay Men: Age or Sexual Orientation as Decisive Factors? Tourism Management, V31N4, p. 454-463.

Kinnaird, V. Kothari, V. and Hall, D. (1994) Tourism: A Gender Analysis. Wiley Chichester, p. 1-34.

Monterrubio, J. C. (2009) Identity and Sex: Concurrent Aspects of Gay Tourism. Tourismos, V4N2, p. 155-167.

Poria, Y. & Tailor, A. (2001) I am not afraid to be Gay when I’m on the Net: Minimizing Social Risk for Lesbian and Gay Consumers when using the Internet. Journal of Travel and Tourism Marketing, V11N2/3, p. 127-142.

Poria, Y. (2006) Assessing Gay Men and Lesbian Women’s Hotel Experiences: An exploratory Study of Sexual Orientation in the Travel Industry. Journal of Travel Research, V44, p. 327-334.

Poria, Y. (2006) Tourism and Spaces of Anonymity; An Israeli Lesbian Woman’s Travel Experience. Tourism, V54N1, p. 33-42.

Pritchard et al. (1998) Reaching out to the Gay Tourist: Opportunities and Threats in an Emerging Market Segment. Tourism Management, V19N3, p. 273-282.

Pritchard et al. (2000) Sexuality and Holiday Choices: Conversations with Gay and Lesbian Tourists. Leisure Studies, V19N4, p. 267-282.

Pritchard et al. (2002) In Search of Lesbian Space? The Experience of Manchester’s Gay Village. Leisure Studies, V21, p.105-123.

Puar, J. (2002) A Transnational Feminist Critique of Queer Tourism. Antipode, V34N5, p. 935-946.