LGBT tourism talk leaves Durban travel Indaba in the pink

Panellists at the LGBT tourism talk

Panellists at the LGBT tourism talk

Following last month’s historic International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association (IGLTA) Annual Convention in Cape Town, LGBT tourism in South Africa has taken another major step forward.

On Monday, a day after the 20th anniversary of the adoption of South Africa’s Constitution, the Durban tourism Indaba held a trade talk that specifically addressed the LGBT travel segment.

Hosted by ITB Berlin (the world’s largest tourism trade fair), the talk was the first time that Africa’s top travel show held an LGBT presentation of this magnitude.

Rika Jean-François, Commissioner Corporate Social Responsibility at ITB Berlin and board member of IGLTA, provided an informative presentation on the scope and value of this niche market.

She said that the organisations are “creating value for LGBT travellers, expanding LGBT tourism globally and are demonstrating the significant social and economic impact” of LGBT travel.

Jean-François added that “there’s a misconception sometimes… it’s not about making people gay. We have to talk about this. It’s about letting people travel, as they are. It’s not about sexual tourism… This is not what we are talking about. We’re talking about the freedom to travel and the freedom to be who you are”.

Fellow panellists included Mmatsatsi Ramawela, CEO Tourism Business Council of South Africa (TBCSA). Ramawela was buoyant about the talk, saying that “it’s really about opening up a conversation about this important niche in the global travel market”. 

She added that “much education and understanding is still needed within the travel trade”.

The UN World Tourism Organisation recently produced a definitive report on global LGBT tourism that quantified the global market at UD$160 billion annually, with the American pink tourism market alone valued at over US$54 billion annually.

“We have to be active as an association [as TBCSA]…” said Ramawela. “We are here to support and to learn… and when our members come to us we are in a position to help them gain access to this market, and to help answer their questions.”

Margie Whitehouse, Chief Marketing Officer of South African Tourism, referred to current developments in the South African travel trade with respect to LGBT tourism as “the most extraordinary opportunity”.

On South African Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom’s groundbreaking speech at the IGLTA convention, Whitehouse felt that “our minister was brilliant in leading the way… in stating a formal policy position… in such an emotional and beautiful way, [where] we all felt moved by it. What we need to do now in [South African] tourism is to take on board the challenge… and be fully supportive [of the LGBT travel market]”.

She added: “By this time next year [at the Indaba] we’ll have a full auditorium watching these presentations and have much better understanding [of this niche market].”

“In 20 years of tourism involvement, at my 19th Tourism Indaba, we’re finally talking about pink tourism… LGBT tourism… gay and lesbian tourism,” said Jason Fiddler, founding Chairperson of KZN Gay & Lesbian Tourism Association and CEO of Travel & Show.

“That in itself, and along with the Minister’s speech at IGLTA’s convention, is significant. Finally the industry has woken up (to LGBT travel)… we’re trying to change things in the industry and it does take time.”

He went on to comment: “I’ve had the question asked many times… ‘How do I market to the gay community, because I’m not gay?’… I don’t think it’s just about putting a rainbow flag on your marketing collateral. It’s that and it’s a bit more subtle… it’s about being in business and taking a standpoint in saying: ‘we are welcoming to all travellers, but especially welcoming to this (LGBT) segment’.”

This could be as simple and making sure the double or twin bed preferences of visiting guests are determined ahead of time to avoid embarrassing or insensitive questions, he said.


Tourism Business Council of SA CEO Mmatsatisi Ramawela as Margie Whitehouse and Chief Marketing Officer of South African Tourism

Rudi Waagenaar, of Inspirational Places and a member of the bid committee that brought the IGLTA convention to Cape Town, encouraged the travel trade to join IGLTA as members but stated that they must be active, engage on platforms and co-operate with IGLTA’s global membership so as to advance their business interests.

Citing a Zimbabwean operator that recently joined, he said that this proved that one could be supportive of change in the industry and not hurt locals, whom this trade will ultimately benefit.

Martina Barth from LETSGOTHERE felt it necessary that travellers know “that there’s tolerance and acceptance” when they engage with travel trade that is actively courting their travel spend. “It’s often about little nuances” she explained, “that change people’s perceptions of a product [in a positive way]. On a personal level, I don’t want to check into a hotel and have a ‘Mr and Mrs’ when in fact is ‘Mrs and Mrs’ checking in.”

The trade talk ended with audience engagement and concerns that were constructively answered. In one instance, the issue of determining, up-front, the sleeping arrangements of potential LGBT guests could be dealt with in the booking forms establishments send out — in a similar way that dietary requirements are sorted out.

The panellists were bullish about the future of the tourism industry as a whole and the LGBT travel segment in particular, with Whitehouse concluding, with respect to the power of the ‘pink Rand’: “The reason I’m sitting here, very proudly, is that our minister went all out… I think that his speech was spectacular and it gave us a very powerful tool… [an official] stance that I’m very proud of.

“There is so much we can do [now]. Not just painting a sign pink, but showing how well we can do as a nation… as a welcoming people,” she said.

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