Special Report: IGLTA looks ahead to its Milan convention in 2020

Association’s chief executive John Tanzella tells Samantha Mayling that delegates are in for a treat

IGLTA, the International LGBTQ+ Travel Association, promises delegates are in for a treat at next May’s conference in Italy’s fashion capital, Milan.

“It is a sophisticated, contemporary, stylish city, with great shopping, culture and history,” says John Tanzella, chief executive of the US-headquartered association.

He recently returned to head office in Fort Lauderdale after a 10-day fact-finding and networking mission in northern Italy.

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“It’s very walkable,” he says. “I saw Giselle the ballet at La Scala opera house; it was stunning. Our conference opening party will be at Sforzesco Castle, which was built in the 15th century, and is home to Michelangelo’s last sculpture.”

Milan has a vibrant, cosmopolitan LGBTQ+ community, and hosts a week-long Pride celebration every June. “This will be the first time we’ve held our annual convention in Italy,” says Tanzella. “The country is LGBTQ-friendly, especially in Milan and the north, and there are LGBTQ organisations throughout Italy.

“It is not quite as progressive as England, but it is getting there, even in regions farther south.”

Arcigay, the main Italian LGBTQ+ organisation, has more than 70 chapters in Italy, and IGLTA has partnered with Italy’s equivalent, the Associazione Italiana Turismo Gay & Lesbian.

Travel, Learn, Connect

The theme of the conference is ‘Travel, Learn, Connect’, and Tanzella hopes the European location will attract more delegates from the
UK and Europe.

About 500-600 delegates are expected, slightly down on the record total of 700 at this year’s event in New York (April 24-27).

“We have about 30 members from the UK, so it is relatively small, but we have got many members that sell the UK, from Europe and America,” he says.

He urges UK travel agencies and other British travel trade firms to join IGLTA and attend the conference to capitalise on the growing LGBTQ+ travel market.

“We have a lot of travel agents outside the UK selling the UK market,” he says. “London is a huge destination, but we would like the UK travel agency side to grow.

“With our conference being in Milan, we hope it will attract them to come to Italy to learn about LGBTQ suppliers and trends – and network with delegates from around the world.”

Since the last conference in May, many new tours have been created and more attention has been focused on the sector in different destinations.

“There was a massive amount of media attention in New York, thanks in part to the Stonewall anniversary and World Pride,” says Tanzella.



A key aim of the convention is to help businesses and destinations attract more LGBTQ+ travellers.

One example is in the Western Pacific island of Guam, which has been working with IGLTA for two years to target honeymooners from places such as Japan, Taiwan and Korea.

“[Guam] has done its homework and research,” says Tanzella. “They attend our conventions and they are seeing a return on their investment.”

He advises other travel firms to follow suit: “Do your homework; don’t just jump in without understanding the market. The LGBTQ market is as diverse as the mainstream market, and encompasses adventure travel, cruises, city breaks, countryside trips and family holidays. Get to know your clients – they are 80% brand loyal – so understand which brands are popular.

Tanzella highlighted that the US LGBTQ+ market has a $100 billion buying power, making it “the largest niche segment in the US” and said sustainability is a big trend in the sector.

He urges the trade to find out more about the market from research papers on the IGLTA website, as well as from the convention.

“We had two very useful round-table discussions for travel agents at our convention in New York and are looking to do three in Milan, especially as we have the support of Jacobs Media Group,” he said.

Travel Weekly parent, and IGLTA media partner, Jacobs Media Group is organising the convention’s buyer and supplier marketplace, and Tanzella believes that “will ensure we get a spread of LGBTQ-friendly suppliers across a wide range of destinations.”

Founded in 1983, the association has seen rapid growth over the past 12 years since Tanzella took charge – now with members in nearly 80 countries, up from 33.

“We work with the likes of the UNWTO and Pacific Asia Travel Association, and we now have corporate partners, whereas before it was taboo,” he says. “We work with tourist boards – such as the Italian National Tourist Board – and brands such as Delta Air Lines, Disney Destinations International, Hilton and Marriott International. We support their employees and their clients.”

The first corporate partner was Asta, the American Society of Travel Agents – similar to Abta in the UK – and IGLTA attends ITB in Berlin and London’s World Travel Market to gain further partners.

Emerging markets

Other priorities for Tanzella are the work of the IGLTA Foundation – which supports the mission of IGLTA and its members through education and research – and the development of symposia in emerging, secondary LGBTQ‑ friendly destinations.

“We hope to organise one or two a year, in addition to the annual convention,” he says. “An example could be Slovenia, which is starting to do more LGBTQ+ marketing, and southeast Asia – in places such as China, Taiwan and Singapore.”

Tanzella has a long pedigree in the travel industry: his parents worked in tourism, and he was in Delta’s marketing team for 15 years.

He has also worked at Destination DC, the convention and visitors’ bureau for Washington DC, as well as for a human rights campaign.

His role takes him around the world, so when he does have time off, he admits that he likes to stay at home in Fort Lauderdale. Among his favourite destinations is Provincetown, in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. “It is charming and uber-gay, with great theatre and seafood,” he says. “It is like Brighton in the UK.”

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