Pride, not prejudice: Why the travel sector should be an LGBTQ ally

The travel industry should stand up for equality and promote LGBTQ rights and acceptance, championing for openness, inclusivity and diversity – the very values travel is supposed to embody

For a region known for its diversity, the same could be said of Asia’s LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) rights and acceptance. Taiwan, on one hand, has ruled that same-sex marriage is a constitutional right, paving the way for the territory to be the first in Asia to enshrine marriage equality into law. But on the other end of the spectrum lies Muslim-majority countries like Malaysia and Brunei, where homosexuality is punishable by the law.

But positive changes are afoot in this largely-conservative region. India’s Supreme Court’s historic ruling to decriminalise gay sex last month certainly calls for rainbow-coloured celebrations. In the immediate wake of scrapping the 157-year ban on homosexuality, some agents have shared that interest and queries from LGBTQ travellers for India are already on the uptick.

India’s latest ruling didn’t just free itself from the shackles of an antiquated law, it is projected to unlock India’s pink economy as businesses rush in to develop an untapped industry estimated to be 2.5 million-people strong in the country.

Travel marketeers targeting the LGBTQ community could perhaps take a leaf from Thailand, which has cemented its position as one of Asia’s most LGBTQ-friendly destinations. In its latest Open to the New Shades marketing campaign, the Tourism Authority of Thailand stepped up its LGBTQ charm offensive with its inaugural LGBT+ Travel Symposium, held in Bangkok this year, which has created a positive ripple effect in the Philippines.

As more destinations and travel businesses warm up to the LGBTQ movement, Peter Jordan, head of insights at Toposophy and founder of Gen C  Traveller,  thinks increased LGBTQ visibility will set in motion “a self-perpetuating dynamic”, enabling more LGBTQ people to be comfortable in openly identifying themselves, and in turn also driving the process of acceptance and engagement.

Former UNWTO general-secretary Taleb Rifai has taken a clear stance in his opening message in the Second UNWTO Global Report on LGBT Tourism, which was released last year: “I invite all tourism leaders to provide a supportive environment for LGBT tourists, in order to associate our sector with open-minded activities that embrace differences between peoples and cultures.”

The Handbook on the LGBTA Travel Segment, released by the European Travel Commission in July, reminds the industry that progress towards ensuring equal rights for LGBTQ people will open opportunities for the tourism sector, and destinations who treat their LGBTQ citizens with respect are not only attractive for LGBTQ travellers but also those who support them.

Beyond the lucrative dollars the  segment offers, I personally feel the travel industry should stand up for equality and promote LGBTQ rights and acceptance, championing for openness, inclusivity and diversity – the very values travel is supposed to embody.

In Asia, where the pressure to conform to the mainstream is still strong, greater support from the tourism sector for LGBTQ people will help to spur societal change, especially with a generational shift in attitudes that sees millennials favouring LGBTQ rights more than older generations.

Together, we can help to remove the barriers of discrimination so that everyone feels free to explore the beauty and diversity the world has to offer. Every traveller has the right to feel safe and welcome, and to enjoy worry-free travel, regardless of their sexual orientation.

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