Why tourism industry should lead efforts for gay rights

As any one who uses Facebook will know, many of your friends (and perhaps your own) profile photos took on a rainbow-coloured hue this weekend. People across the world clicked their support for equal marriage being declared legal in the USA, on the same weekend that Pride Festivals took place across the world. They were joined by many international companies which took the opportunity to spread various rainbow-themed marketing images that positioned their brands on the side of equality for people of all sexual orientations.

Tourism has a significant role in the growth of sexual acceptance. When Business Insider published a list of the top 25 companies for LGBT people to work for last year, Orbitz came second, and Disney and Hyatt also made the list. Not only did Orbitz sign the Amicus brief sent to the Supreme Court in 2013 calling for the repeal of the Defence of Marriage Act, it has also won the GLAAD Advertising Award twice for LGBT-inclusive TV advertising twice.

These are industry leaders, but for any company being open to all people needn’t mean radically overhauling your lobby decor or putting off your straight clientele. Rather it is an easy and effective way of telling all your guests that you are a friendly, welcoming place – which is generally what people look for from a holiday, after all.

It can start with acts as simple as not assuming that Mr and Mr Jones is a misprint; by not embarrassing them through asking if they ordered a double bed by mistake; and by being able to answer any requests they make for local information about where they might like to go.

21 Countries worldwide that have marriage equality nationwide. While the UK grants it in England, Scotland, and Wales, it does not in Northern Ireland and so for the purposes of this map showing only nationwide marriage equality, does not count.

Looked at through the lens of economic value, being a gay-friendly destination (or hotel, tour company etc), makes total sense. LGBTI world travel was valued at $200 billion in international travel in 2014, according to the a report released by Out Now Business Class at World Travel Market last year*. Moreover, a study by Community Marketing & Insights found that for every one dollar invested in gay tourism marketing, $153 was returned in direct economic spending in shops, hotels, restaurants and attractions.

Economic arguments can only be taken so far, however. Putting a price on the value of how we relate to others may be a necessary step to get industries and destinations to change, but it is a cold equation. Writing recently about the limitations of basing arguments for sustainability on economics, George Monbiot argued that the real reason we should be saving the natural world was not because it might be good for the economy, but because we love it. In 2015, the fiscal argument for treating all sexual orientations equally should be as unnecessary a motivation for doing the right thing as needing to prove that slavery was economically inefficient.

Countries where homosexuality is still illegal

Unfortunately, as the water cannoning of Turkey’s Pride March this weekend reminds, much of the world remains a long way from celebrating the right to love the one you’re with. There are still 10 countries where homosexuality is legally punishable by death, along with around 80 where it is still illegal. And while those 10 pariah states are some of the least likely places for tourists to visit right now, many of the 80 others are travel hot spots, whether or not their use of taglines such as “The Freedom to Explore” truly applies to every possible guest.

The industry has long campaigned for the removal of the many barriers to travel it perceives as unjust. This more than qualifies. And as article 2.1 of the UNWTO’s Global Code of Ethics for Tourism states: “when practised with a sufficiently open mind, [tourism] is an irreplaceable factor of self-education, mutual tolerance and for learning about the legitimate differences between peoples and cultures and their diversity.”

It’s a mighty aspiration. If we are to live up it, there should be one flag flying in welcome above every hotel in the world.

And there should be a rainbow on it.

* In May, WTM and Out Now launched the first ever industry wide Global LGBT Travel Industry Survey into the industry’s engagement with the sector. Its results will be published at WTM this November.