Last updated: 05:00 PM ET, Tue May 26 2015

LGBT Travel Presses for LGBT Rights

Destination & Tourism | James Ruggia | May 26, 2015

LGBT Travel Presses for LGBT Rights

PHOTO: LGBT travel is leveraging its economic clout to make changes in laws and attitudes. (Courtesy of Thinkstock)

Friday’s Irish vote, which legalized gay marriage in the country, directs the attention of the entire world to the struggle of LGBT people to achieve full status as citizens in their home countries. With every new state and country that legalizes gay marriage, the pressure grows stronger on those who resist. Travel finds itself as one of the key tools in applying that pressure through the fear of a boycott of the conventions and meetings business on the one hand and the attraction of a lucrative LGBT travel market, being stimulated right now by the drive for LGBT destination weddings on the other. Carrot and stick.

Destination weddings are playing the role of catalyst in the acceptance of gay marriage by destinations., a leader in same-sex weddings globally, has seen a greater than 50 percent jump in same-sex weddings in the last year, and expects the momentum to continue. Destinations like Queenstown, New Zealand, which have legalized gay marriage, have seen a surge in the gay destination wedding business.

“The very same day that gay marriage was legalized in Florida, tourism officials there began promoting gay weddings,” said Thomas Bömkes, ITB Berlin’s managing director LGBT consultant. “It’s moving in your country. It’s moving here in Europe and internationally. You can see the changes. We are getting more marketing directed at us and there’s now plenty of research to emphasize our clout as a lucrative market.

“Even a big mainstream company like DER Tours now has packages geared towards LGBT travelers. We have been at ITB Berlin with our own pavilion since 2010 and we’ll be going to ITB Asia this October. Though Asia may seem like a new frontier, Taipei holds one of the biggest Pride parades (Oct. 24 this year). We expect the momentum to continue to build over the next few years.”

Even in a destination that is as culturally conservative as Kyoto, Japan, the Hotel Granvia now offers traditional Japanese weddings for same sex couples, though Japan has yet to legalize gay marriage.

In April 2016, the first TropOut will take place in Thailand. TropOut is a week-long event (April 3 to 9) comprised of equal parts relaxing, partying and exploring Thai culture. Up to 1,100 travelers are expected to go to Bang Tao Beach in southern Phuket, where the Angsana Laguna Phuket will play host. According to TropOut Director Aaron Zoanetti, “gay travelers want an experience that is more than just a party. No travel experience is truly complete without cultural enrichment and personal rejuvenation.”

TropOut encourages its guests to explore Thailand via island tours, cooking classes and spa treatments. A six-night package for TropOut begins at $1,295 per person and includes accommodation at the Angsana Laguna Phuket, access to premier open-air beach clubs, 2 x Premier Parties inclusive of canapés, free-flow bar and an array of entertainment, daily breakfast, airport transfers and more.

When Indiana Governor Mike Pence enacted laws that were viewed as discriminatory, the threat of boycott put the state’s meetings and conventions business in danger. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal’s recent overruling of the state’s legislature, which had dashed a bill that would have allowed businesses owned by people who are opposed to gay marriage to discriminate against gay people on religious grounds, threatens the same kind of boycott. Unfortunately, that would be felt hardest in New Orleans, which has progressive laws protecting LGBT people.

The situation threatens to get weirder. Two LGBT rights organizations in Georgia, for instance, are threatening to issue what would be the first “Travel Advisory” by a non-governmental entity. GetEQUAL Georgia and Rise Up Georgia will issue a travel advisory should the Georgia General Assembly adapt two companion bills — House Bill 218 and Senate Bill 129 — that would allow the state government, corporations, and privately-owned businesses to discriminate on the basis of their “strongly held religious beliefs.”

The Irish vote further compels destinations to take a stand somewhere and isolates those policies that continue to isolate their own LGBT citizens, whether they are one of the American states that have yet to legalize gay marriage or countries such as Italy, Japan and Russia.

The Irish vote made Friday a significant day in history, but it was also a day for celebrating in Vienna where the 60th annual Eurovision Song Contest, a fixture on the international gay calendar, took place. To celebrate the event, Vienna installed a set of gay-themed traffic lights at dozens of locations in central Vienna that depict male or female gay couples with hearts — in red for stop and green for go — replacing the usual single, gender-neutral figure.

To get up to speed on LGBT travel you can visit the International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association. It has all of the tour operators and it’s a great portal to understanding the whole segment.


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