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Booking.com Reveals the Contrasting World of Caution and Confidence for Canadian LGBTQ+ Travellers in 2023

The most extensive LGBTQ+ travel research from Booking.com to date spotlights the rising concerns surrounding personal safety and how active allyship in the travel industry contributes to increasing traveller confidence

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With a mission to make it easier for everyone to experience the world, regardless of who they love or how they identify, Booking.com’s most extensive LGBTQ+ travel research to date spotlights the steady progress, as well as the recent setbacks, for these communities when it comes to travel. Despite the travel industry’s growing recognition of the scope and variety of LGBTQ+ experiences, many travellers today still face enormous challenges. With a background of polarizing political decisions in the past 12 months, personal safety has never been more of a focus, with four fifths (78%) of Canadian LGBTQ+ travellers reporting that they must consider their safety and wellbeing as an LGBTQ+ person when picking a destination – up significantly from 68% last year. This also increases for intersex (90%), genderfluid (90%), transfeminine (89%) and transmasculine (87%) travellers globally.

Conducted amongst 11,555 LGBTQ+ travellers across 27 countries and territories around the world, the extensive study shows that mainstream news – from issues around recent major world sporting and music events to celebrity and corporate sponsorships – has put discriminatory legislation and views in the spotlight for many, impacting considerations around vacation decisions. More than three quarters (77%) of Canadian respondents admit that controversy in the news around attitudes, discrimination and violence towards people who identify as LGBTQ+ has had a big impact on their choice of destination, with LGBTQ+ travellers from Australia (84%), Hong Kong (82%) and the U.S. (79%) indicating that they are the most cautious.

A regressive revolution

This step backwards means that personal safety is now an increased point of discussion for LGBTQ+ people when planning travel, particularly amongst those who are transgender. Worldwide, there are still 64 countries that criminalize same-sex relationships – including 11 where the death penalty can be imposed – meaning destinations like these are out of the question for the majority of Canadian LGBTQ+ travellers, despite some playing host to major global events. More than half (60%) say that some destinations are completely off-limits, rising to 74% for transgender travellers who reportedly face a disproportionately higher rate of discrimination and violence around the world. Even after booking trips, Canadian LGBTQ+ travellers remain vigilant, with 28% having canceled a trip in the past year after seeing a destination not supporting those who identify as LGBTQ+, rising significantly to 63% for those who are transgender.

Discrimination remains a key concern across the entire travel experience, with the majority (53%) of Canadian respondents having experienced discrimination when travelling, increasing to 86% of transfeminine and 83% of transmasculine travellers. Out of all LGBTQ+ travellers globally: 

  • 29% reveal that they have been subjected to stereotyping, rising to 51% for genderfluid or genderqueer travellers  
  • One in five (20%) say they have been stared at, laughed at or verbally abused by other travellers. This is highest amongst pansexual travellers (26%) and lesbian travellers (23%)
  • A similar number (18%) share that they have faced the same but by locals at their travel destination, rising to 23% for lesbian travellers and 22% for both queer and pansexual travellers
  • While 13% report that they have been threatened or intimidated by local law enforcement, this rises to nearly one in three (32%) for intersex travellers and nearly one in four (24%) for transgender travellers

For those who are transgender, travel can come with additional barriers, for example, if their gender identity, name or appearance does not match that of their passport. While 62% of Canadian LGBTQ+ travellers admit that being an LGBTQ+ person has impacted how they present themselves in terms of their clothing and make-up choices while travelling, this increases to three quarters (75%) globally for those that identify as transgender. What’s more, while 17% of Canadian LGBTQ+ travellers have had someone incorrectly assume their gender or pronouns, twice as many (38%) transgender travellers have experienced this.

While travelling can instill a sense of freedom and self expression, a significant proportion of LGBTQ+ people still feel restricted. More than a third (39%) have felt that they need to change their behavior to avoid judgment or awkward interactions with others (up from 29% in 2022), while 31% have felt they need to change their appearance to avoid the same (up from 21% in 2022). This affects the younger generation the most, with 48% of Canadian Gen Z LGBTQ+ travellers feeling they need to change their behavior and 41% feeling the need to change their appearance.

Even travelling to destinations where they feel there is adequate legislation to protect their rights, a proportion of LGBTQ+ travellers still feel uneasy across the entire trip experience – especially versus those destinations with less than adequate legislation. For example: 

Canadian LGBTQ+ travellers who feel uncomfortable in destinations with adequate legislation:Canadian LGBTQ+ travellers who feel uncomfortable in destinations with less than adequate legislation:
While going through airport security15%30%
While hailing a taxi17%32%
While eating outside of their hotel7%26%
While showing ID for events9%26%
While going out late in the evenings26%43%
While participating in guided tours with groups of other tourists11%22%

Transforming caution into confidence 

While personal safety concerns have a key impact on destination choices for LGBTQ+ communities at large (53%), other key motivations for travel play a very strong role, with beautiful natural scenery (55%), tasty local cuisine (53%) and great beaches (46%) rounding out the top elements that have the greatest impact on destination choices.

Despite the headlines and significant challenges that persist in many destinations, 59% feel that their experience of being LGBTQ+ actually makes them more confident as a traveller (up from 54% in 2022), with transfeminine (83%) and transmasculine (81%) the most confident travellers out of the different LGBTQ+ gender identities. It’s also refreshing that, when it comes to experiences on vacation, 80% of LGBTQ+ travellers feel confident to partake in any activities they want. The majority of Canadian LGBTQ+ travellers (61%) are more likely to seek out attractions and activities that are tailored to people identifying as LGBTQ+. For example, Booking.com has a range of LGBTQ+ specific activities available to travellers around the world, from guided walking tours of the LGBTQ+ history and culture of Vancouver, around the vibrant streets of the Marais in Paris and Asakusa and 2-Chome in Tokyo, to an informative tour in New York documenting how LGBTQ+ communities have helped shape the Chelsea district into the thriving urban neighborhood that it is today.  

Positive travel experiences are proving far more common too and, no doubt, increasing the confidence of LGBTQ+ communities. 80% of Canadian LGBTQ+ travellers say they have experienced some form of positive interaction, and specifically when it comes to those interactions with places to stay: 

  • 53% have had friendly and informative correspondence with the accommodation ahead of arrival (up significantly from 23% in 2022)
  • 53% say they have had great first impressions on arrival such as welcome drinks and friendly staff (up from 34% in 2022)

Our own Ottawa was named one of the most LGBTQ+ friendly destinations in the world, given its culturally vibrant nature and history of LGBTQ+ progression. In 2019, Ottawa’s mayor came out publicly in a local newspaper just before the city’s Pride celebrations – news that was celebrated and supported far and wide. The first ever Canadian gay protest took place in 1971 at Parliament Hill, and Canada was the first country in the Americas to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide in 2005. These days, celebrate Pride month on Bank Street, the longest road in Ottawa and a cosmopolitan hub home to eclectic shops, bars and support services for LGBTQ+ people. Head to the LGBTQ+ owned bar Swizzles where the party is as inclusive as ever. For a great caffeine fix, the lesbian-owned coffeehouse chain Bridgehead serves an incredible flat white and caters to a mixed bunch. 

Active allyship in the travel industry

The travel industry is clearly playing a part in shifting attitudes and perceptions. 76% of Canadian LGBTQ+ travellers feel more comfortable travelling due to the increased inclusivity of the travel industry, increasing to 87% for genderfluid or genderqueer travellers. What’s more, 74% of LGBTQ+ travellers actively enjoy the experience of booking trips – only 5% less than Booking.com’s Travel Trends research which spoke to all travellers.**

Still, the research shows there’s much more to be done to meet the needs of LGBTQ+ travellers. While guidance and information on the local area at check-in is common (46%), being offered LGBTQ+ specific guidance is much less frequent, with only 13% having experienced this. Almost half (42%) would like to receive information on the LGBTQ+ status of the location, such as local laws, religious sensibilities and tips on where to go to be safe, rising significantly to 51% for travellers who identify as trans* and genderfluid or genderqueer.

There is a clear need for travel companies to show up as allies to implement policies that are inclusive and welcoming for Canadian LGBTQ+ travellers: 

  • 61% research travel brands and experiences before they travel to understand the role they play in supporting people who identify as LGBTQ+
  • 65% say they are more likely to book travel and experiences with brands who are LGBTQ+ owned than those who are not (up from 59% in 2022) with queer (73%) and pansexual (71%) travellers more likely to do so
  • 67% agree that they are more likely to favor airlines and brands with inclusive policies (e.g. gender neutral uniforms), rising to 86% for transmasculine and 83% for transfeminine travellers 

Since launching in 2021, Booking.com’s Travel Proud program provides free inclusive hospitality training for accommodations to help them gain a better understanding of the specific challenges faced by LGBTQ+ travellers, as well as what can be done to make every guest feel more welcome, regardless of where they come from, who they love or how they identify. The training is now available in English, Italian, French, Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese and German, with training sessions available in all languages at least once a week. There are now more than 24,000 certified properties globally on Booking.com, with welcoming Travel Proud stays available in 118 countries and territories and over 7,030 cities.

“In a world of increasing contradictions and instability, it’s no surprise that the LGBTQ+ travellers of today are simultaneously more cautious and more confident,” says Arjan Dijk, CMO and Senior Vice President at Booking.com. “I understand the self-confidence that comes from growing up and learning to navigate the world as a gay man, as well as the extra thought and consideration for safety and well-being that we see LGBTQ+ travellers continuing to grapple with in this research. At Booking.com, we believe that everyone should be able to experience the world as themselves, always. While visibility, understanding and acceptance of LGBTQ+ people has come a long way in recent years, we can’t take that progress for granted. The travel industry should strive to be a beacon of inclusion, helping foster an environment where everyone can flourish and thrive, whether exploring closer to home or travelling to the other side of the world.” 

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