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LGBT tourism services eyed for growth prospects in China

/ 01:39 PM January 14, 2016

CHINA—The spending power and keen interest in travel by those in China’s well-heeled LGBT community are attracting growing attention from tourism startups and investors.

Wang Zhao, CEO and co-founder of GLOW Travel, an acronym for Gays and Lesbians On the Way, had been a travel consultant for years when his gay friends said he should be providing services tailored for people like them.

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In November 2014, Wang organized a trip for a group of 11 gay travelers to the island of Bali, Indonesia. Its success confirmed his decision to start a company focusing exclusively on such services for China’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

“People like us have totally different interests and demands when traveling abroad. We want to explore local communities that are friendly to homosexuals instead of pure sightseeing,” said Wang, 35. “Additionally, LGBT people have strong demands for acceptance during their trips. Travel is also a good way for them to make friends.”

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Another startup, CandyCANer, also is trying to optimize regular travel services for the LGBT community. Its website is expected to launch at the end of the month.

“A tiny detail will make them feel welcome and comfortable. Take bathrobes, for example. A regular hotel will provide bathrobes for a man and a woman in the room. The hotels we arrange would provide a pair of men’s or women’s bathrobes for a gay or lesbian couple,” said Xiao Haisheng, co-founder of CandyCANer. “Our ambition for the future is not only providing travel services, but creating a cultural space for LGBT people to socialize with each other.”

Although there are no official statistics, it is estimated that China has 50 million to 70 million people who identify as LGBT, based on typical numbers in other countries. A report from WorkForLGBT, a nonprofit business network in Beijing, said those they surveyed in China’s cities are not only doing well financially, they also enjoy traveling.

The survey said 75 percent of its respondents traveled within the Chinese mainland over the past year and a quarter traveled overseas.

A 28-year-old Shanghai fashion designer surnamed Gao said he travels about five times a year.

“We don’t book trips from travel agencies, which provide few attractive products,” Gao said. “I plan most of my trips on my own, based on information I collect from social media.”

The gap in the market provides opportunities for startups like GLOW, and also for overseas travel service providers who want to serve China’s LGBT market but have little experience identifying clients and business partners in China.

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“I thought it would be difficult for startups like us to explore overseas LGBT travel sources,” Wang said. “But when I started doing this, many of the mature LGBT travel service providers overseas came to us.”

Business growth may come from providing services instead of resources as the understanding of the consumption and traveling habits of the LGBT population deepens, said Xiao of CandyCANer.

In China, service providers expect the industry to develop as more people feel comfortable being open about their sexual and gender orientations. WorkForLGBT’s report found only 3 percent of surveyed men and 6 percent of surveyed women are completely open about their orientation.

Xiao said this is true especially for those who work for the government or State-owned enterprises.

“For us, we are trying to get to know our target customers from social media and places LGBT people like to visit. We also have close cooperation with nonprofit organizations that focus on researching the LGBT group,” Xiao said.

“We have to do business like traditional businessmen: getting to know your customers and creating products based on their wants and needs.”

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TAGS: China, Growth, LGBT, prospects, Services, Tourism
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