How did a gay travel website come up with the most successful idea to help hoteliers reach quality travelers, and became one of the most promising travel platforms in the global hospitality industry?
A few years ago, two Greek guys (one from Greece and one from Cyprus) Nikos and Zenios decided to create a modern gay travel website, with the purpose of helping gay travelers find the best hotels for their holidays. The idea was not just to recommend gay-friendly hotels & resorts, but also to help hoteliers understand gay travelers’ needs, thus offer a high-quality experience to this niche market.
In his constant effort towards this goal, Nikos S. Morantis, CEO at Travel by Interest, has written several articles about the subject. One of these is his recent piece in Hotelier Academy (the leading educational media for hoteliers) about How to Reach more Gay & Lesbian Travelers, and has spent countless hours helping hoteliers understand the actual needs of global gay travelers.
The idea has always been to help hoteliers understand the diversity of the audience without distinguishing them from their other guests.
The project soon became a hit among hoteliers around the globe. And, following its recent redesign by Zenios Zeniou, Travel by Interest’s co-founder and Creative Director, the platform was transformed from a gay travel directory to a major travel website for every traveler seeking for more personalized ways to pick a hotel.
But what is the story behind this transformation and how did these two young professionals penetrate the global hotelier market and speak openly about gay travel, even at conservative destinations?
One month before speaking at GNetwork 360, one of the leading LGBTI travel conventions in the world, Nikos S. Morantis & Zenios Zeniou analyze their ‘gay business success story’, showcasing how the LGBTI community can make a difference with real talent and hard work!
First things first: how did you come up with the idea of creating a gay travel website that would help hoteliers communicate with LGBTI travelers?
NM: As we are Greeks, tourism and hotels are in our DNA! When I was 25, gay travel was a new thing and everybody was struggling to understand this niche market. However, back then, most people perceived the LGBTI community as a source of quick and easy money.
Realizing this, we decided to invest in creating a better way of treating gay travelers, that would not just focus on money. We decided to create a channel where LGBTI travelers could find useful information and, at the same time, hoteliers could better understand the gay market’s needs and improve their services — always focusing on mutual benefits, both for travelers and hoteliers.
This means that you had to speak openly to hoteliers about LGBTI travel and make them understand our habits. Were they open to that information or did you face discrimination and offensive responses?
ZZ: Surprisingly, the acceptance of LGBTI people was much higher than we could ever imagine. Of course, money is a good way to encourage businessmen to hear you, but we always focused on building a good culture for our audience, so we insisted on the services.
The first few years, we delivered a special training course to hotel staff about LGBTI travel, before recommending the property to the gay audience. And we were not just talking about how to treat their gay guests properly, but also about the beauty that lies within diversity and that as gay travelers, we don’t require any special treatment or service!
And we were impressed, especially with Greek hoteliers, who were very open to hear us and happy to speak and educate their staff.
Did you ever encounter any weird behavior while speaking about the LGBTI community to the hotel staff? Were there any homophobic people who were not open to what you had to say?
ZZ: We were truly impressed with the training procedure, as people felt really comfortable. As a matter of fact, there were many times when someone from the audience became emotional, as they shared with us some sad stories about friends of theirs who were still in the closet.
As for the ‘less open’ topics, we did encounter some controversy towards transgender people. And we tried really hard to make it clear that any kind of discrimination towards any person is simply unacceptable. The hotel staff training usually turned into an intense discussion around human culture, and I am pretty sure that it even helped in improving the hotels’ entire mentality!
Regarding homophobia among hoteliers, it is really a rare thing. And yes, we did face some stupid behaviors a couple of times, however, you can rest assured that they got just the answer they deserved.
How is Travel by Interest helpful for LGBTI travelers?
NM: Think of Travel by Interest as your best gay friend who has been everywhere and is always there to advise you about your trips — either you are searching for a hotel to stay or a destination to visit.
For almost every destination, we have created a special hotel collection with the top gay-friendly hotels – also including major destinations like Mykonos, Bangkok & Lisbon. In the meantime, we are also creating special gay travel guides for major destinations around the world, informing about their gay-friendly attitude and gay nightlife.
Moreover, gay travelers can find more gay-targeted hotel collections, like the best gay-only hotels in the world, or gay-friendly hotels for honeymoons. Almost all hotels confirm their open mentality through their photos, showing single men or even male couples. Each hotel profile is also enriched with gay-popular places nearby, while our TBI Blog special Gay Section features many fascinating gay articles about gay nightlife, gay beaches, etc.
Which countries were the most difficult to accept the fact that you represented an LGBTI travel project?
NM: The answer is definitely not what you might expect. Greece, Thailand and Portugal are at the top of the list with the friendliest hotel professionals – they are really open to welcome LGBTI travelers and offer them an upgraded experience. Staying on the bright and surprisingly good side of things, hoteliers from several conservative destinations, like Bali & Maldives, are really open to gay travelers and make an important effort to ensure that their hotel grounds are safe for the LGBTI travelers.
And for that reason, after we were sure of their welcoming character, we tried to help them connect with gay audiences. In any case, it is still a fact that there are places where homosexuality is not accepted, but that doesn’t mean that gay travelers must not visit those places as well — of course, always having in mind the local situation and mentality.
So far so good, but how did you transform a gay travel website into a global platform that covers all travel categories and travel interests?
NM: To be perfectly honest, it felt a little bit ‘miserable’ to isolate gay travelers into a specific website. So, since there are many more niche, interesting markets, we decided to evolve the platform into the ‘Travel by Interest’ concept.
The first step was to change our name from Destsetters (gay travelers are trendsetters, so our initial travel project was named Destsetters – Destination Settters) to www.travelbyinterest.com, and open more categories like Food, Wellness and Luxury.
For all these new markets, we applied the same recipe, offering to travelers selected hotels per travel category, as well as useful guides and articles that help them organize their trips. Of course, hoteliers loved the idea and supported the project even more.
And now what? LGBTI travelers are not your thing anymore?
ZZ: On the contrary! The global gay travel market is still our main target group and our strongest competitive advantage. This year, we will invest in creating much more content that will help gay travelers get even better booking decisions.
But we love the project’s diversity as well as the fact that the gay category stands out, being always at the top of our lists. And we really don’t care if homophobic people leave our website for that. Travel By Interest is made for modern travelers, with love for culture and people.
So what comes next for Travel by Interest?
ZZ: Now we are working on further improving the website’s content and user experience. Our main focus is to find more hotels to offer to our audience. Last year, we launched even more specific hotel collections like hotels for gay wedding ceremonies or hotels with handsome men in their photo shooting.
This makes our hotel content more playful and useful, which helps us build an even closer relationship with our audience. Lastly, we urge you to register at Travel by Interest, so that you can save your favorite collections, articles, and hotels, and book your future trips easier and more organized!
This article was sponsored by Travel by Interest.