Responsible Travel has launched an LGBT travel guide. Vicki Brown explains why
Responsible Travel aspires to lead by example. When the company was launched in 2001, responsible tourism was not even a concept. Travel companies didn’t publish responsible tourism policies and few travellers questioned the ethics of trips.
Today, many consumers are far more aware of the impacts of their holidays in the same way they are of plastic straws or sweatshop clothing.
While there are few LGBT trips on our site, we don’t want to wait around until these tours become mainstream. We want to speed up the process, to put pressure on tour operators to provide information to LGBT customers and empower travellers to let holiday companies know what they need.
Our LGBT holidays guide is aimed as much at tour operators as it is at tourists.
We don’t sell ‘gay holidays’ or promote trips to LGBT nightclubs. Our tours are open to everyone. Our LGBT holidays are simply those:
Where we know the operator has taken the time to speak to its tour leaders about the needs of the LGBT community.
Where the operator can confirm that accommodation hosts and local guides will be sure to welcome a transgender traveller.
Where two men asking for a double room will not cause an issue – and in cases where it might and this is unavoidable, such as a homestay in a traditional community, the company has done its research and can advise same-sex couples well in advance.
The challenge is that while all the tour operators we work with are more than happy to welcome guests of any gender or sexual orientation, just a handful have carried out these checks and are confident they can answer questions posed by LGBT customers.
That is why less than 1% of our trips are currently classified as LGBT holidays – a depressingly low number.
Other mainstream travel sites claim to have far more. However, the numbers don’t tell the full story.
On some booking sites, a tour operator just has to tick a box to be classified as LGBT friendly. And because virtually all operators accept LGBT travellers on trips, they will tick it.
While plenty of travel agents and booking sites are more scrupulous than this, of course, it is not always easy for travellers to know how LGBT trips have been selected and what makes them LGBT friendly.
Responsible Travel has taken a different approach. We don’t ask member companies if they are LGBT friendly; we ask them how they are.
We want to know what assurances they can offer LGBT travellers, if they are up to date with laws and social attitudes, and what kind of relationships they have developed with local guides, communities and guesthouse owners.
Have they taken gay couples before? What about trans customers? Are some parts of a country more conservative than others? Will two women be harassed if they hold hands in the street?
Responsible Travel’s guide – which has in-depth reports on LGBT travel in countries as diverse as Cuba and Vietnam, South Africa and Jamaica – answers many of the questions that LGBT travellers and their family or friends may have.
It is also helpful to tour operators who want to provide useful pre-departure information and ensure guests’ safety on the ground.
It’s not as simple as understanding whether same-sex sexual activity is criminalised or whether gay marriage is recognised. This is easy to find out.
What is trickier are the numerous countries which have progressive laws, but traditional attitudes.
There are places with welcoming cities but a closed countryside, destinations where gay culture is celebrated through art and literature and those where music and song perpetuate homophobic beliefs, countries whose citizens do not believe homosexuality exists or where men holding hands is a sign of friendship.
Since Responsible Travel’s inception, we have fought against greenwashing by insisting tour operators provide evidence for how they are controlling the impacts of tourism on destinations and communities.
We have never accepted a superficial statement. Now we aim to do the same with ‘pinkwashing’: demanding concrete information rather than assurances.
Our hope is that other travel companies will offer such comprehensive information on their own sites, and in pre-departure packs.
It’s not just ethical, it’s good business. In order to book a trip, a customer of any orientation or gender needs to know they can trust their tour operator to minimise any risks and to warn them of any that are out of their control.
“We welcome LGBT travellers” is no longer good enough.
Vicki Brown is Responsible Travel’s editor
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