The Power of Gay Travel
By Andrew Villagomez
The International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association (IGLTA) has been providing networking support for gay and gay-friendly travel businesses around the world for 30 years. To celebrate its anniversary, the organization launched a nonprofit, the IGLTA Foundation, which hopes to use LGBT travel to build bridges with communities globally.
The Foundation's first educational symposium earlier this month brought together over 80 individuals from tourism boards, media, government, and charitable organizations to discuss LGBT travel with panels on global tourism trends, destination marketing, and its travel coverage in media. The discussion porition was followed with a networking reception to start having connections form to further build those bridges between communities.
It was a successful first step for the Foundation, but we were interested to find out what else it has planned in the coming year and how will it achieve its goals. Charlie Rounds, IGLTA Foundation board chair and managing director of Brand g Vacations, answered some of our questions.
Out: What in today's travel industry and culture brought upon the Foundation?
It really is about using the power of travel to help not only enhance the LGBT travel experience, but also the local LGBT communities where travelers are going. For example in Chicago at our annual convention, we will offer all of the participants to meet the local LGBT community by joining and participating in volunteer projects. Everyone wins—the traveler gets to see part of Chicago she normally would not, gets to meet the local LGBT community, and feels good that Chicago is a better place because of her work. We hope to do that annually and help organize smaller versions globally.
Also, sustainability is a key trend in the travel industry, so another goal was for us to help local LGBT travel companies benefit from LGBT tourism. Our scholarship and mentor programs should do that.
With the main goal to build bridges with communities worldwide, what global communities does the Foundation think will most benefit from it and which of communities currently need these bridges most?
I think a good example is Prague. Prague Pride was represented at the first symposium and did an exceptional job explaining how [it is being used] to both help the local LGBT community [and increase] tourism to the Czech Republic. Buenos Aires did a great job of using the travel community to raise funds for a local children’s hospital.
Looking forward, Vietnam is considering legalizing gay marriage, so how can we work with all of the LGBT travel companies that are organizing travel there to help. Lastly, the Winter Olympics of 2014 are in Sochi, Russia. How can the global LGBT travel community start the discussion as to how the new Russian anti-LGBT laws will affect not only the travelers, but the athletes and their families as well?
How do online resources and social media impact LGBT travel today?
They are a vital source of information for our guests to have a better travel experience. So not only can we learn if the pillows are properly fluffed and the room clean, but also if the destination is safe and welcoming, from both official sources, as well as peer reviews that may be more trusted. Many LGBT people globally are not out, and online will continue to be their safest method of obtaining the most relevant information.
Lastly, in a culture where gay and lesbian seems to be becoming more mainstream why should we still consider an LGBT traveler specifically?
Great question, but the reality is there is a huge trend in modern travel towards “identifiable community” travel. For example, Blues, Jazz, and Rock cruises. Vacations for liberals, conservatives, photographers, needle pointers, vegetarians, yoga and most types of fitness, Christian, Muslim, Jewish, alumni from a specific school – these are all growing markets. So one year we may go on a bird watching trip, the next year the Harvard University Alumni trip to Peru, and finally in year three an all LGBT vacation – all because they are part of who we are.