08 JUL 2019: New research shows that Britain is the most popular European destination for North American LGBT holiday-makers, beating the seven other countries surveyed to the top rank. Britain also scored highly with Canadian LGBT travellers on welcome, with 95 percent agreeing that Britain is a “LGBT-welcoming place to travel.” We recently met with Paul Gauger, Senior VP Americas, who leads VisitBritain’s Love is GREAT campaign

Gauger told us that VisitBritain has been doing gay and lesbian marketing for quite a few years but have never really had any research done, so they commissioned research by Community Marketing & Insights.

The result - ‘LGBT Leisure Travel to Britain’ found that Britain’s historical attractions were top travel motivators overall for LGBT visitors with 76% sightseeing at famous buildings and monuments and 68% visiting castles, historic houses or historic attractions on their trip. The survey also found that Canadian LGBT visitors enjoyed the vibrancy of Britain’s cities with London, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Manchester the top four cities for overnight visits.

Everyone knows that London is a great LGBT destination, safe and friendly and welcoming, said Gauger, “but we also want to showcase much more. Just like our overall strategy. It's not just London.”

In fact, the Visit Britain LGBT site  has guides to nine cities: London, Brighton, Manchester, Birmingham, Glasgow, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Newcastle and Bristol.

The research found that essentially LGBT travellers are interested in the same daytime activities as any other travellers. Britain’s historical attractions were found to be the top travel motivators overall for LGBT visitors with 76 % sightseeing at famous buildings and monuments, and 68% visiting castles, historic houses or historic attractions on their trip, with only 10% saying they go for Pride events.

With that in mind, the city guides on the site offer information on the usual sightseeing that interests all visitors, along with information on shopping and restaurants.

“They (LGBT visitors) go to visit,” says Gauger, and while they still want to do the same things as straight visitors, “they also want to know where the bars and clubs are, where the cool neighborhoods are, where the gay neighborhoods are and where there are the lesbian bars?

“It's a little like straight by day, gay by night.”

The survey also found that Canadian LGBT visitors enjoyed Britain’s cities with London, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Manchester the top four cities for overnight visits.

The research showed the majority of LGBT Canadians and Americans chose Britain as their favourite European destination. So it’s Britain first, followed by the Netherlands and Spain tied at second followed by Ireland and France for the top five.

With the fierce global competition for visitors, Gauger said Britain must continue to highlight the equality and openness of Britain while addressing barriers to travel, promoting our message of welcome and value and highlighting experiences that research shows appeal to LGBT visitors from Canada.

The survey also found that Britain’s countryside and outdoor activities appealed strongly to LGBT travellers. Two thirds were interested in exploring small towns or the countryside in Britain.

Going to the theatre was also cited as an influencer particularly for gay male visitors and LGBT-themed theatre was considered a motivator for repeat visits to Britain.

Younger LGBT visitors were also attracted to quirky and different attractions and experiences in Britain and of course there is a strong VFR (visiting friends and relatives) market, in fact it’s about even – with half the visitors to Britain are independent travellers and half visiting friends and family.

“I was looking at the research and compared to the US visitors, Canadian visitors were less focused on London and more focused on places like Scotland.

“Canadians also seem more motivated by beaches and coastal towns and the countryside than the US visitors. There some subtle differences.”

Canadians also spend longer periods of time in Britain than Americans. However, they're more driven by seeing (and staying with) friends and family.

Visit Britain participated in Pride activities in five Canadian cities this year - Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal, Ottawa, and for the first time - Calgary

“Two years ago when Kathy (Stapells) and I did Pride, it was Vancouver and Toronto and then we doubled it and made it Montreal and Ottawa last year and this year now we've included Calgary.” Said Gauger who was happy to add Calgary as there were now direct West Jet flights from Calgary to London.

Noting that the British High Commissioner came from Ottawa to Toronto to join the Pride celebrations, Gauger explained that this is very much a British government campaign to promote diversity and welcome inclusivity and equality.

He referred to “pink washing” basically a term used to describe companies who decide to fly the rainbow flag and participate in Pride events during Pride month.

“Suddenly they're gay for the month of Pride.” Said Gauger, “And it's fine they're investing in the community.

“But I think what we're saying is also it's not just for Pride for us, it's the commitment to LGBT throughout the year, 365 days.

The Love is Great campaign began in 2014 and is now in its fifth year.

“It’s going from strength to strength.” Said Gauger, noting that VisitBritain has been doing LGBT marketing for at least 20 years in different formats, “but the Love is GREAT campaign is the consistent campaign and we're weaving it in our mainstream campaigns. It's called ‘I Travel For Love’, and with ‘I Travel For’ campaigns - it's all about passion points. So, again, you could be ‘I Travel For Adventure,’ ‘I Travel For Culture’, ‘I Travel For Shopping.’”

...And while ‘I Travel For Love’ is directed specifically at LGBT visitors all the other “I Travel For...’ campaigns appeal to the sector as well.

Britain is truly welcoming visitors – all visitors and Canadians are way up there.

The new eGate access for eligible travellers from Canada is a definite positive – gone are the tedious and frustrating long lineups - Canadians simply slide their passports in the machine, look at the camera and they’re through.

Having been one of the first visitors to test this at both Heathrow and Gatwick – I can attest that it really speeds the process. Hint: if you wear glasses – take them off.

And the future looks good. Forward flight bookings from North America to the UK for all arrivals from June to August this year are currently tracking ahead 4% compared to the same period last year.

VisitBritain is expecting 893,000 visits overall from Canada in 2019, up 6% year-on-year, with Canadian visitors forecast to spend £730 million ($1.19 billion).

See the whole report.

Images at the Toronto Pride Parade: Courtesy of VisitBritain/Moe Laverty Photography

Moe Laverty Photography-7162

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Jen Savedra

Jen Savedra is the founder and editor in chief of Travel Industry Today with  a long career and considerable experience in various sectors of travel and tourism. She is dedicated to producing a publication that differentiates itself from the pack. One that pulls no punches, and - along with being a forum for news and ideas - is easy to navigate and always fun to read.

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