How do you approach businesses that are based in regions where treatment of the LGBTQ community is not considered?
(These questions and answers relate to an upcoming talk on younger LGBTQ travelers I am giving at WSYTC on October 8, but it is applicable to the entire LGBTQ segment.) There are still around 70 countries that criminalize homosexuality including at least 11 where the punishment is the death penalty. There are nearly 30 countries that offer marriage equality. However, the welcome LGBTQ travelers receive depends on more than the legality and you can be warmly welcome in a legally anti-LGBTQ destination and receive terrible service in an LGBTQ-friendly destination. It all comes down to the level of awareness and training for both marketers and customer-facing staff. I approach ALL businesses with the understanding that they have both challenges and opportunities with the LGBTQ segment and whether they do no marketing or invest heavily in the segment, they have and will continue to have increasingly diverse guests. I urge them to at least understand diverse guests – more than 50% of GenZ identify as something other than straight! — and authentically engage with and welcome them.
What are some examples of what organizations that serve youth travelers are currently doing to make LGBTQ travelers feel welcome?
Youth travelers are a segment that expects to be celebrated for their uniqueness. They also expect to be accommodated no matter what their sexual orientation or gender identity. I have helped youth-oriented hostels develop strategies for the LGBTQ segment and smart policies for accommodating guests with non-normative gender identities and presentations – especially challenging when it is a question of shared and especially sex-segregated accommodations.
There are many ways to affirmatively make LGBTQ travelers feel welcome including, simple signage (a well-placed rainbow decal can be very effective!); inclusive (or at least non-offensive) web content and social media; training staff to be LGBTQ welcoming and inclusive; partnering with outside community organizations; promotion of attractions, history and culture of interest to the segment; private ‘single use’ toilets; and more! I’ve trained staff in person and remotely. I’ve also helped organizations 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”?
Organizations almost always go wrong when they make assumptions about their guests based on their perceived relationship status or gender. DON’T assume the two women checking in are sisters who want separate beds. DON’T greet a group of masculine-presenting people as “gentlemen!” or say “good morning, girls” to young people with long hair; In fact use gender INCLUSIVE not EXCLUSIVE language. DON’T ask a little girl where here mommy is when her two (male) parents are standing there. Don’t assume the person with a deep voice on the phone is a man. Try to understand non gendered language including “they” as a pronoun that replaces he or she for trans and some non-binary travelers.
If our customer-facing teams make mistakes that could cause the guest anxiety or worse and that could cause you to lose their business and that of their family and community, who’s to blame? Your staff or a lack of training? The very nature of travelers and guests is changing rapidly before our eyes. You need to educate yourselves and your teams to prepare to welcome them with the same authentic engagement and warm welcome you greet ALL guests. But this is a learned technique. If your customer facing teams are making costly mistakes, it’s the responsibility of the organization to rectify that. Otherwise we are putting them in to situations where they will likely make costly errors through no fault of their own. That is management malfeasance.
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 after obtaining my MBA, I had a great career but was dissatisfied. After extensive soul searching, I had a simple but profound epiphany about my true passion which lead me to tourism & hospitality: I’ve always loved to travel and tell people about my trips. So, within a year 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 then expanded till I became editor in chief of the next important LGBT travel publication, The OUT Traveler and editor of a number of online publications including Advocate.com/travel and Out.com/travel. After 12 years 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 the world over.
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. My training neither requires nor assumes prior knowledge. I’m also a professor of marketing at New York University’s Tisch Center of Hospitality. I am absolutely passionate about teaching, which I have also been doing in my profession for 20 years helping my colleagues and clients better understand and engage with LGBTQ travelers. I pride myself on creating a compassionate learning environment free of judgement and I always see and address unasked questions. Not everyone is comfortable talking about this subject and I understand that. But we’re in hospitality and tourism so we 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.