The first Travel Trade Talk at Indaba to specifically address the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) travel segment took place one day after South Africa marked the 20th anniversary of the adoption of its globally-renowned Constitution – which includes specific protection on the grounds of sexual orientation.
By Jason Fiddler, founding chairperson of the KZN Gay & Lesbian Tourism Association, and CEO of Travel & Show.
The discussion – ‘The LGBT Travel Segment from a global & South African perspective’ – was initiated and hosted by ITB Berlin, and began with a presentation on the extent and value of LGBT travel by Rika Jean-François, the Commissioner of Corporate Social Responsibility at ITB Berlin, who is also a member of the boards of the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association (IGLTA), and the IGLTA Foundation.
As a partner of IGLTA, Rika said that ITB is active in “Creating value for LGBT travellers, expanding LGBT tourism globally, and demonstrating the significant social and economic impact of LGBT travel.”
She added that, “There’s a misconception sometimes… it’s not about making people gay. We have to talk about this. It’s about letting people travel as they are. It’s not about sexual tourism… This is not what we are talking about. We’re talking about the freedom to travel and the freedom to be who you are”.
Besides Rika and me, the panel included Margie Whitehouse, Chief Marketing Officer of South African Tourism; Mmatšatši Ramawela, CEO of the Tourism Business Council of South Africa (TBCSA); Martina Barth from Lets Go There; and Rudi Waagenaar of Inspirational Places, who was also a member of the bid committee that brought the IGLTA’s annual global convention to Cape Town earlier this year.
The discussion was moderated by Justin Barnette, South African Tourism’s marketing and communication manager in the USA.
Mmatšatši was buoyant about the event. “It’s really about opening up a conversation about this important niche in the global travel market,” she said, although she cautioned that, “Much education and understanding is still needed within the travel trade.”
She acknowledged the work that ITB and Rika have done in facilitating the discussion on short notice, and emphasised that education is key if the industry is to fully comprehend the true value of the market.
The United Nations World Tourism Organisation’s definitive report on global LGBT tourism (.pdf 3.3 mb) quantified the global LGBT market at US$160 billion annually, with the American pink tourism market alone valued at over US$54 billion annually.
“We have to be active as an association (as TBCSA)… we are here to support and to learn… and when our members come to us we are in a position to help them gain access to this market, and to help answer their questions,” said Mmatšatši.
Margie Whitehouse said that current developments around LGBT tourism in the South African travel trade offer, “The most extraordinary opportunity.”
She said that Derek Hanekom’s groundbreaking opening speech to IGLTA’s global convention (which took place in Cape Town in April 2016, and which was the first of its kind to be hosted in Africa) was, “Brilliant in leading the way… in stating a formal policy position… in such an emotional and beautiful way.
“What we need to do now in Tourism is to take on board the challenge… and be fully supportive of the LGBT travel market.”
My own position is that this talk sent a clear message that South Africa is open for LGBT business, and that SA Tourism’s marketing material can now evolve to include the LGBT market.
After 20 years of work in tourism – and 19 Indabas – I’m finally seeing significant discussion about LGBT tourism. Taken together with the Minister’s speach at the IGLTA convention in Cape Town, the industry seems to have woken up to LGBT travel at last.
How do I market to the LGBT community?
‘I’m not gay, so how do I market to the gay community?’ – this is a question we’re often asked.
We have an inclusive policy at KZNGALTA, and most of the associations I know have similar policies. Quoting directly from my speech: “I don’t think it’s just about putting a rainbow flag on your marketing collateral.
“It’s that and it’s a bit more subtle… it’s about being in business and taking a standpoint in saying: ‘we are welcoming to all travellers, but especially welcoming to this segment’.”
Visitors have diverse interests, but there are also considerable similarities between LGBT and mainstream visitors – and business should be careful to not create a ‘them and us’ mentality.
Embracing diversity in both product offering and customer needs could be as simple as making sure that you determine beforehand whether guests prefer double or twin beds, and so avoid having to ask embarrassing or insensitive questions in person. (This could be dealt with in booking forms in a similar way to questions about dietary requirements.)
Rudi Waagenaar encouraged the travel trade to join IGLTA as members, and to actively engage and co-operate with other members in order to advance their business interests.
Martina Barth said it was necessary that travellers should know “that there’s tolerance and acceptance” from the businesses courting their travel spend.
“It’s often little nuances that change people’s perceptions of a product.
“On a personal level, I don’t want to check into a hotel and see ‘Mr. and Ms.,’ when in fact it’s ‘Ms. and Ms.,” she said.
The panelists were bullish about the future of the tourism industry as a whole and about the LGBT travel segment in particular, and SAT CMO Margie Whitehouse concluded the discussion by saying that, “The reason I’m sitting here very proudly, is that our Minister went all out… I think that his speech was spectacular and it gave us a very powerful tool… (an official) stance that I’m very proud of. There is so much we can do: not just painting a sign pink, but showing how well we can do as a nation, as a welcoming people”.
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