Finally, Thailand comes out of closet and rolls out carpet for LGBT travellers

Thailand wants to be 'model' destination for LGBT+ tourism

Long perceived as a top destination for LGBT+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender/transsexual plus) travellers in Asia, Thailand has quietly been pursuing this niche market segment but it is only this year that the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) is openly coming out to target the pink dollar.

Such is the interest that TAT is now giving to the niche sector that it has spearheaded the first LGBT+ Travel Symposium: Thailand in Bangkok, in addition to being the presenting LGBT partner at ITB Berlin 2018 earlier this year.

Thailand wants to be a model destination for LGBT+ tourism

The LGBT+ Travel Symposium: Thailand was a two-day networking and educational event that took place at So Sofitel Bangkok on June 29-30, bringing together 55 LGBT+ travel buyers and media from around the world to meet with the Thai travel trade to exchange insights on the best practices in sales, marketing and operations to reach the LGBT+ market worldwide.

Speaking at the LGBT+ Travel Symposium last Friday, Srisuda Wanapinyosak, TAT’s deputy governor of Europe, Middle East, Asia and the America’s Marketing Group, said: “We have been watching the LGBT+ segment with great interest in the last decade. Our aim is to see exponential growth in Thailand as a LGBT+ destination, and we hope to be a model for this segment.”

Encouraging inclusive tourism is a key etho of the TAT, as Thailand is regarded by the LGBT community as a “safe, tolerant and respectful” destination, Srisuda pointed out. “Our mission is to position Thailand as a preferred destination to experience diversity.

TAT’s Srisuda Wanapinyosak (in pink dress; front row) and PATA’s Mario Hardy (far left) pose with speakers and participants at the symposium

“We are proud that LGBT travellers can stay anywhere in Thailand with a complete peace of mind. Our kingdom is open to every possible shade under the rainbow,” she added, a reference to the TAT’s latest Open to the New Shades campaign, which encourages all types of travellers to discover the diversity in experiences in Thailand.

There’s an economic incentive to this niche segment, of course. Underscoring the importance of this lucrative segment to Thailand, Uwern Jong, editor-in-chief of luxury travel magazine for gay people OutThere and LGBT+ travel ambassador for the TAT, stated: “The total global value of LGBT+ travel is reported at US$200 billion dollars; it grows at an average of eight per cent year-on-year when mainstream travel grows at just 3.8 per cent. LGBT+ people made an estimated 81 million journeys last year.

“Demographically, they earn 22 per cent more than their straight counterparts and on average they spend 55 per cent more on travel, so it’s easy to see that the LGBT+ sector makes a dynamic and influential contribution to the global economy – and it is crucial (as a market) for Thailand,” Jong stressed.

According to Peter Jordan, founder of tourism market intelligence provider Gen C Traveller, the LGBT+ tourism market is not only seeing “increasing visibility”, it is also seeing “increased diversification in products, destinations and events”.

More organisations are starting to take an interest in the LGBT+ sector as a result, which is apparent in UNWTO’s Global Report on LGBT Tourism developed in collaboration with the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association (IGLTA), for which Jordan has been commissioned as author for the first two editions.

He believes these reports not only mark “a true milestone” for global tourism but also “demonstrates recognition and credibility for the LGBT+ market at the highest level of tourism policymaking”, he added. Soon to be released is the new European Travel Commission and IGLTA joint research Handbook on LGBTQ Tourism in Europe.

The LGBT+ sector is also of interest to PATA, which had entered into an organisational partnership with IGLTA since 2015, shared the organisation’s chief executive Mario Hardy.

But despite a significant shift in societal attitudes towards greater acceptance of LGBT+ people in the last decade, Hardy recognises that this remains “a sensitive topic” and is even taboo in some parts of Asia.

“There is still a lot of work to be done,” he reminded, urging travel sellers to display greater inclusivity and respect to LGBT+ travellers. Simple gestures such as doing away with ‘his & hers‘ slippers or having gender-neutral bathrooms will go a long way in making this group of travellers feel welcomed.

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