Come October 12, the Philippines will welcome its first LGBTQ travel symposium in Malvar, Batangas, a culmination of efforts by the local trade to grow a largely untapped but promising market segment.
The event, strongly supported by the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), is expected to attract 300 participants from the travel trade, local government units and the academe, said organiser Lax Junnel Mendoza, concurrent president of the Association of Travel and Tour Agencies in the Calabarzon region which includes Batangas.
Mendoza, inspired to organise the local symposium when he attended the first LGBT+ Travel Symposium: Thailand organised by TAT in Bangkok earlier this year in June, is eyeing an “exchange” programme with the Thai NTO for travellers between Thailand and the Philippines.
In the pipeline are plans to create a training programme to make local properties and their services gay-friendly and tackle issues like the proper address for these travellers, providing gender-equal toilets, health and safety, and wellness, shared Mendoza.
“The readiness on the grassroots level can make or break the plan” to enhance the LGBTQ market, he stressed.
It is understood that TAT is lending strong support to the Batangas symposium as part of its strategy to build awareness for Thailand as an outbound destination for LGTBQ travel from the Philippines, beyond the key feeder markets of Manila and Cebu.
TAT’s Philippine marketing representative Alma Rivera said the LGTBQ market will be her “flagship in 2019”.
The Philippines’ LGBTQ outbound segment is growing faster than inbound and among the preferred Asian destinations including Taiwan, Shanghai, Beijing and Cambodia, Thailand remains the most popular because of its open approach to LGTBQ and availability of LGTBQ-friendly facilities in the main tourist destinations.
Although the Philippines is known to be one of the most gender equal countries in Asia, LGTBQ inbound is still weak due to limited gay-friendly facilities. Also, it’s still a conservative society where public display of affection and cross-dressing are frowned upon.
Nonetheless, tourism assistant secretary Robby Alabado III said the Philippine Department of Tourism is already supporting LGBTQ through gender responsive tourism and that its marketing arm, the Tourism Promotions Board, is also supporting the LGTBQ travel symposium.
Ian Laroda, inbound and business development officer, Travel Warehouse, said LGTBQ inbound has a lot of potential but the bottom line is to have strong marketing and promotions with government support.
He is keen on remarketing the Outings brand for LGTBQ launched several years ago by a consortium of travel agencies including Travel Warehouse.
What will increase the awareness for inbound, said Laroda, is the first gay pride parade in Mindanao to be organised by young professionals in Cagayan de Oro in December. In metro Manila, the gay pride started with 1,000 participants several years ago but had grown to more than 7,000 when it was held in Marikina this year.
Through trade efforts and public campaigns, Mendoza hopes to remove the stereotype that LGTBQ travel revolves around sex and more importantly, this community wants to be respected and accepted and that the UNWTO is already acknowledging the potentials of this market.
Agreeing, Laroda said LGBTQ travellers are like the usual leisure tourists with penchant for the beach, history, culture and night bars.
LaBoracay beach party has gained a following from this niche market until the government decided that the island won’t be a party place anymore when it reopens next month. An alternative, Laroda said, is Puerto Galera which is known as a “gay” destination even before Boracay became famous.
Other destinations favoured by the LGBTQ travellers are La Union, Cebu, Bohol and Siargao which is booming.