Collaboration Leads To Extensive LGBT Guide to Business Travel
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LGBT business travelers move the world like anybody in the industry. Unfortunately, there are myriad concerns that follow the LGBT corporate traveler on their respective trips.
Top of the list are trips that encompass countries where the community isn’t just frowned upon, but remains a volatile subject that may just put travelers in danger.
Thankfully, Marriott, IBM and the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce have all teamed up with Billy Kobler to create Man About World – a digital business travel guide and app that acts as an essential publication for LGBT travelers.
Sadly, we don’t yet live in a universally inclusive society. However, there remain countless things to consider that will empower that next itinerary. There are a multitude of steps that can be taken to ensure the trip is as positive and worthwhile as possible.
Most importantly, there are actions that will have LGBT travelers returning home safely.
We had the pleasure of touching base with Man About World founder Billy Kobler who opined on the publication, its value and the ever evolving world.
TravelPulse: How did the guide start? What was the impetus behind its inception and the partnership with Marriott and IBM and the NGLCC?
Billy Kolber: The idea for the guide began when we got an email from a friend working for a multinational management consultant, who was being sent to a six month project in Dubai. Gay and HIV+, he didn’t know if he could get into the country, or what to tell his employer. It got us thinking that no one had ever talked about LGBT business travelers before, even though we face significant challenges.
About the same time, I had a conversation with Arne Sorenson at Marriott, and he asked what I thought Marriott could do to help their LGBT associates and guests in the more than 76 countries where homosexuality is criminalized. This was one of our suggestions. Like Marriott, IBM and NGLCC are very engaged around issues of diversity and inclusion, and over dinner at a travel conference in Buenos Aires, the partnership came together.
TP: What has been the most prevalent concern from business travelers discovered while putting the guide together? What has been the most useful piece of advice that might allay fears?
BK: LGBT travelers want to know what the situation is really like on the ground -- not just the laws, which may or may not be enforced. The guide uses tips, recommendations and shared experiences from real travelers to bridge the divide between the factual realm of State Department warnings, and the business closet, which travelers are often forced back into.
The most useful piece of advice, repeated by many of our contributors, was to respect foreign cultures, and learn about them before arriving. The cultural context for LGBT people turns out to be much more relevant than the legal context.
TP: Sadly, the world remains absolutely stuck in archaic sentiment and bigotry. With that said, have you noticed things improving for LGBT travelers on a whole? What particular regions are the most volatile?
BK: Of course, the LGBT community has made great strides in recent years, and the increasing visibility of LGBT travelers has prompted many more travel providers to become sensitive and accommodating of them. Although most of Africa, the Middle East and parts of the Caribbean are typically considered the most difficult regions, homophobia and transphobia is more localized and personal: Large urban areas tend to be more accepting than rural areas (we see this pattern played out all over the world), and we still encounter violently homophobic individuals in even the most diverse and tolerant places.
TP: Obviously, American travelers have most recently seen how things are playing out for North Carolina and its recent legislation. How has the enacted law affected decisions to do business in the state?
BK: While travel boycotts by individuals rarely accomplish change in laws or sentiments, the reaction of most business companies to discriminatory legislation has been quick and significant. Demographic patterns show that young people want to live and work in places that enshrine equal rights and reject discrimination. Modern companies are following their lead, and pulling jobs and business from municipalities that enshrine discrimination in their laws.
TP: How do you see the state of travel to places like North Carolina in the wake of various events being canceled due to the Anti-LGBT law?
BK: At ManAboutWorld, we don’t support individual boycotts because they are rarely impactful, and because we can do more to change hearts and minds in the kinds of interpersonal engagement that happens through travel. But the meetings and conventions business is very sensitive to these issues, and places like North Carolina will continue to pay a larger and larger price for bigotry.
Q: What steps might employers take to ensure their employees are safe as they handle business throughout the world?
A: The first step is to make sure that LGBT travelers have a supportive environment at work that allows them to be their authentic selves and discuss these issues. HR and travel professionals can’t do their jobs to protect travelers if they’re unaware of who might be at risk. Second, they need to be aware of the legal and cultural context their LGBT employees face in particular destinations. The ManAboutWorld Guide provides the necessary resources for them to learn this. The third step is to proactively offer information and resources to LGBT travelers – again, our guide is a great place to start.
TP: Lastly, what are some things about the guide or its app that you feel our readers would find useful?
BK: The tips and recommendations from actual travelers who have done business all over the world offers a powerful kind of understanding and reassurance. Our wide range of resources – from the U.S. State Department to Scruff – allows the guide to help answer the broadest range of questions. And the section geared to small business owners is full of practical advice on obtaining some of the perks, discounts, upgrades and benefits that Fortune 500 corporate travelers get. While the advice isn’t specific to LGBT entrepreneurs, we know that LGBT people over index for entrepreneurship, so it’s particularly useful.
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