Our raison d´etre at PROUD Experiences is to ensure everyone feels like they belong everywhere when they travel. When this comes to LGBTQ+ travellers we have a long way to go, not only are there some 69 countries globally where homosexuality is illegal, we still sadly live in a politically-polarized world where anti-gay political agendas still exist, such as in Florida and parts of the US, which are trying to legislate against drag queens performing openly in public and in Uganda this year, which made it illegal to even identify as gay!
Through our work with PROUD Experiences, we receive a lot of stories from LGBTQ+ travellers about their experiences when they travel. Earlier this year, I received a note from one travel agent partnership, who are a same-sex couple, letting me know that: In the past 3 months they’ve had 4 hotel stays being addressed as Mr. & Mrs., one hotel stay where they set up 2 beds in their room, another stay where we had a sofa bed made up that they didn’t request. This is just one example of some of the challenges LGBTQ+ travellers face. It is worth us remembering that travel is where we spend our most precious time, where we spend our hard earnt money and what we put our hopes and dreams on for an unforgettable experience. Sadly too often this experience can be a negative one from the outset if the LGBTQ guests are welcomed at check-in with questions about whether they really want a double bed or perhaps a raised eyebrow or just a welcome that seems less than welcoming to guests that can be extra sensitive having had previously unpleasant experiences.
Nevertheless, we believe travel is the antithesis of closed mindedness, travel broadens our minds and our understanding of others, it brings different people, cultures and countries closer together. For this we believe travel has the power to change; and change is happening, Singapore, Barbados, Botswana and Mozambique are some of the countries that are decriminalizing homosexuality. Countries that rely on tourism. Do we believe as an industry that Travel has the power to help make the change? I believe we all do. Whether it be making one persons coming out at work easier or using the power of travel to influence a company or country´s culture. But most importantly influencing the LGBTQ travelers’ experience – working across all levels of your organization whether as agents or within the hospitality sector itself, we all need to ensure staff are trained and ready to recognize each and every traveler as an individual, a couple or family.
What can be done? Well, diversity starts within. Are you a diverse company? Does you company, hotel, DMC, or travel company truly represent your community where you operate? You should aim to break down barriers around conversations regards diversity and inclusion, tell people not to be afraid, don´t worry about making mistakes, just have an open heart and mind as well as desire to make people feel comfortable. Sometimes the terminology around LGBTQIA+ can be daunting for people but it´s the human element that matters more than the letters.
Image matters too. Have you looked at your social media? Still too many hotel brands I know and respect, have Instagram accounts that are almost exclusively features two western, white, blond haired parents with two blond and blue eyed children. I know most people like me will look at Instagram as a first port of call and see if there is someone that ´´looks like me´´ or could be me. If not, then it´s not the place for me. Or – I don´t belong here.
Other simple things that can be done are consider sensitivity training for your staff, simple questions, asked in sensitive way can make all the difference such as at a hotel check in ´´the beds can be made up one of two ways, as a queen or two singles, do you have a preference´´ or asking people what their preferred pronouns are, ´´how would you prefer me to refer to you?´´ or self-identifying yourself, ´´Hello, my name is Simon, my pronouns are he/him´´ and doing so on your email to make a statement about your attitude to Diversity & Inclusion and also to broaden the conversation on D&I.
Here at RX, we have Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) representing all aspects of Diversity & Inclusion, they have a mostly strong participation of Allys (supporters) and are a great way to improve diversity and inclusion within your business.
Last but not least, take part in events – events such as our own PROUD Experiences or pay attention to the seminar programme at WTM where diversity and inclusion is always covered, not least on the subject of Afrotourism or be present a pride events and celebrate pride month and beyond within your organisations.
Should you wish to chat more or have any suggestions on what we could do better – don’t hesitate to reach out to us directly here.
The opinions expressed in this text are the author’s opinion and do not necessarily reflect the position of WTM Latin America.