Excerpted from an interview with WSYE on marketing to LGBTQ travelers and LGBTQ travel safety

How do you approach businesses that are based in regions where treatment of the LGBTQ community is not considered?

I approach all businesses with the understanding that there are challenges and opportunities within the LGBTQ community. Whatever the end of the marketing spectrum organisations are at towards promoting themselves in the segment, businesses will continue to receive increasingly diverse guests. I urge organisations to at least understand how to authentically engage with and welcome all guests. 

There are still approximately 70 countries that criminalize homosexuality, including 11, where the punishment is the death penalty. There are nearly 30 countries that offer marriage equality. The welcome LGBTQ travelers receive depends on more than the legality, and you can be warmly welcomed in a legally anti-LGBTQ destination and receive terrible service in an LGBTQ-friendly destination. Implementing inclusivity practices across external operations all comes down to the level of awareness and training for both marketers and customer-facing staff.

What are some examples of what organizations that serve youth travelers are currently doing to make LGBTQ travelers feel welcome?

Youth travellers are a market that expects an inclusive service, no matter their orientation or gender identity. Hostels, for example can implement smart policies such as de-segregating same-sex dormortories for accommodating guests with non-normative gender identities. There are many other ways to affirmatively make LGBTQ travellers feel welcome, some practices include;

  • Partnering with and promoting attractions, history and culture of interest to the segment.
  • Simple signage, a well-placed rainbow decal can be very effective!
  • Inclusive web content and social media.
  • LGBTQ welcoming and inclusive staff training.
  • Private toilets for individuals.

I’ve helped organisations conduct audits of all marketing materials and mystery shopping to assess the true welcome LGBTQ guests receive.

What are the typical “bad service” scenarios you have heard about/ experienced during your time training organizations? Where do you think organizations “go wrong”?

Scenarios I hear about often are when staff make assumptions about guests based on perceived relationship status or gender, for example, two women checking in are assumed to be sisters and are offered separate beds, masculine-presenting people are referred to as “gentlemen” even if they do not identify to this gender-norm, or children are asked where their mother or father is when the two parents of the same gender are present. I recommend understanding and using non-gendered language, including “they” as a pronoun. 

If the customer-facing teams make mistakes that could cause the guest anxiety, or a loss of business. The very nature of travelers and guests is changing rapidly before our eyes. Education is critical for all staff to deliver authentic engagement and a warm welcome to all guests. This is a learned technique. If the customer-facing teams are making costly mistakes, it’s the responsibility of the organisation to rectify that through appropriate training.

Do you think that organizations and destinations that promote themselves to travelers from the LGBTQ community understand the safety requirements these travelers need? If not, where do they start in gaining this knowledge?

In a word, no. Most organizations now understand they need to have a well-lit parking lot or a defibrillator as part of their duty of care. But very few understand that to authentically welcome LGBTQ and other diverse guests you have a duty of care to understand them and their needs, behaviors and concerns and protect them as you would all your cherished guests. You have to learn a little about the history of LGBTQ travelers and the pitiful lack of welcome (and open antagonism, abuse and worse) they’ve suffered. Sure, LGBTQ travelers can travel more openly in more places but when you think that 70 countries still criminalize homosexuality and that even in supposedly safe countries, LGBTQ people can still be harassed, abused or worse, it’s no wonder they are more cautious about the travel decisions they make compared to others. The good news is that this segment rewards even small acts of inclusiveness with their loyalty and a little training and strategy can go a long way! It also been proven that when you offer a more engaging and authentic welcome to LGBTQ travelers, you tend to offer much better service to ALL guests. So the investment you make with this segment pays dividends throughout your business.

Tell us a little about yourself. What drew you to the tourism and hospitality industry? 

After working for several years in market research and obtaining my MBA, I had a great career but was dissatisfied. I’ve always loved to travel and tell people about my trips and after extensive soul searching I had a simple but profound epiphany about my true passion which led me to tourism & hospitality.

I moved from Boston to LA to start a job as the editor of a small, but important gay travel publication called OUT & ABOUT. That company was acquired and I became editor in chief of The OUT Traveler and editor of several online publications including; The Advocate and Out. I co-founded ManAboutWorld, the first app-based queer travel magazine and HospitableMe Consulting, which offered strategic consulting and inclusive hospitality training.

I am now a solo practitioner through Salvato Consulting offering LGBTQ marketing strategy, travel safety and inclusive hospitality education and training to tourism and hospitality brands and the meetings industry.  I pride myself on offering smart, actionable consulting and education that is never condescending and never assumes familiarity with the rich but complex culture of the LGBTQ segment. Not everyone is comfortable talking about this subject, and I understand that. Professionals in hospitality and tourism must address the topic, and it’s crucial to have a seasoned facilitator to create a productive, safe and enjoyable conversation with actionable learning outcomes.

Published by edsalvato

Educator, marketing, communications and travel safety expert; LGBTQ Pavilion at the New York Times Travel Show; public speaker; expert panel organizer and moderator

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