opinion

Ethical gay travel: Why LGBTQ holidaymakers should be aware of where they're spending money

Uwern Jong urges the community to support queer businesses when heading abroad.

2020-01-16

This article first appeared in Attitude's February travel issue, out now to download and to order globally.

Last year, the Sultan of Brunei’s “Dorchester Collection” came under fire after he introduced harsh antigay laws in his home land. The (gay) public was abhorred but divided in response.

Some people called for an all-out boycott of the properties while others proposed a full-on love in. But what the controversy highlighted was the importance of LGBTQ travellers supporting LGBTQ-owned and welcoming providers.

A record number of queer people are travelling for leisure – accounting for some 88 million journeys and spending in excess of £164bn a year – making us the world’s fourth biggest tourism economy.

Research shows that 55 per cent of these travellers will choose to do it with LGBTQ-owned businesses or those committed to diversity and equal treatment of the community.

But what it also shows, is that close to half aren’t as dedicated to “keeping it in the family.”

It may be confusing to understand why a gay person wouldn’t choose an LGBTQ operator, but in a world that is more positive than ever of sexual orientation and gender diversity – and in an industry driven by care-taking and hospitality – perhaps there isn’t always a need.

Some perceive that mainstream providers offer more experience, better value and wider choice. Others consider the LGBTQ travel industry to be somewhat stereotypical, suggesting that it hasn’t evolved from offering just gay-only holidays to gay-party destinations.

Today, numerous mainstream companies openly support the community, while we have become adept at cutting through the corporate pink-washing, demanding concrete assurances that go beyond a rainbow-coloured logo during June.

Uwern Jong is editor-in-chief of OutThere magazine and a board member of IGLTA.

When pressed, many operators come up short on their due diligence. I have only encountered a handful that have trawled the supply chain to ensure that their LGBTQ clientele are absolutely taken care of, from that initial booking through to the cleaners who change the hotel sheets.

In the same way we concern ourselves with Fairtrade and ethically sourced meat or groceries, we should also be aware of where we spend our holiday cash.

LGBTQ travel businesses are making their mark, too. Many entrepreneurs start their travel businesses inspired by the richness of our culture and community, and bring access to services specific to our needs. They offer heightened empathy having “walked in our shoes.”

Having them in the mix is important in uplifting our community, fostering a sense of pride, and delivers value from the special character and level of service that they bring.

Craig Smith, founder of LGBTQ experience company Source Events says: “Our guests prefer to support businesses that truly welcome us. We provide added value by ensuring our partners are fully supportive, and many even go the extra mile by donating to LGBTQ causes.”

Robert Sharp of Out Adventures adds: “With LGBTQ rights under attack around the globe, it’s more important than ever to support queer-owned providers. By doing so, travellers experience new cultures in a respectful manner that opens hearts and doors.”

Both Source and Out Adventures are members of the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association (IGLTA), the world’s leading LGBTQ travel network, that promotes equality and safety for queer travellers. It also fosters growth in the sector through education, research and leadership development.

Image: nomadicboys.com

Consumers can do their part, too. When you use a LGBTQ business, you vote with your wallet, divesting from those who aren’t as inclusive in their operation. You also empower successful, minority-owned businesses to grow and create even greater equity, leading the industry by example.

Before you pick a provider, scrutinise it. There are tools to aid your research beyond the economic. In my view, if you’re lining pockets, you might as well line hearts and minds as well.

Prejudice and discrimination persist and may even be rife in your choice of holiday destination. It makes sense to opt for a travel provider that cares about your circumstance as well as your money.

Uwern Jong is editor-in-chief of OutThere magazine and a board member of IGLTA.

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