Wednesday, May 9, saw the kickoff of the IGLTA Annual Global Convention. Held this year in Toronto, it’s a yearly gathering of “tourism professionals,” organized by the International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association, aimed at connecting travel and tourism suppliers and buyers through workshops and networking receptions. Among the topics discussed at this year’s IGLTA convention is the special role tourism must play in the worldwide struggle for equality.
Earlier today, a session on tourism and human rights took place. It was moderated by Fabrice Houdart, a Human Rights Officer in the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. On the panel was Hornet founder and President Sean Howell, Kevin Dallas of Bermuda Tourism, Helen Kennedy of Canadian advocacy organization Egale and Dinesh Perera of FOOZOO Travel.
Last September, Houdart’s office published Standards of Conduct that called on the private sector to play a role in effecting global social change for LGBTQ people. More than 100 of the largest companies in the world have since signed on to those standards, including Airbnb, American Airlines, Lufthansa, Virgin and, most recently, Hyatt.
At today’s session, Houdart spoke of the travel and tourism industry’s power when it comes to bringing change to the world. He noted that tourism provides 10% of the world’s GDP and 7% of all global trade.
“It is a voice that cannot be ignored and has the power to contribute to expand the historic shift in public attitudes we observed here in North America and need in most places of the world,” Houdart says.
That voice is needed now more than ever, in a time when we’re witnessing atrocities in Egypt, in Chechnya and elsewhere. As Hornet has reported extensively, there are more than 70 countries where people are still arrested and imprisoned for being an LGBTQ individual. And, as Houdart points out, even in considered-progressive Canada, conversion therapy on minors is perfectly legal. “For all the progress of the past decade, millions of LGBT people remain trapped in a climate of hostility, violence and stigma, and for some of them, life is getting harder rather than easier,” he says.
And that’s where the private sector can step in. As Houdart notes, while businesses are largely unable to singlehandedly eradicate stigma and drive social change — that’s most often done through grassroots efforts — businesses can get engaged in the fight for equality. In fact, business has a critical role to play.
“At this time of great flux, when huge gains made in many countries in the West, in Latin America and parts of Asia now need to be consolidated and extended, and when LGBT communities are more visible — and in some cases facing pushback in parts of the world where they were previously relegated to the shadows — we need your help now more than ever to get all companies, irrespective of their size and location in this industry, to step up in meeting responsibilities and opportunities on the Human Rights of LGBTI people,” Houdart says. “The decisions companies take — whether in respect of human resources, investment, their supply chains, even marketing — can have a real and in some cases profound impact on human rights.”
During the session, Hornet’s Howell spoke about his company’s many campaigns to bring about social change with respect to global human rights, and he offered advice to companies in the travel industry that want to play a role but don’t know where to start.
“One thing I heard from activists in Egypt when I traveled there to meet with users after the police started arresting gay men last year was that we need to keep these topics in the press,” Howell says. “And while ethically we should protect human rights aside from economics, businesses should do their part by sharing information, having pro-LGBT internal policies and definitely issuing statements and signing on to letters supporting inclusion.”
Hornet is currently supporting a campaign called #DecriminalizeLGBT alongside IGLTA and the Men Who Have Sex With Men Global Forum (MSMGF).
“I encourage everyone to share this hashtag today and connect it to tourism,” Howell says.
This year’s IGLTA convention is taking place in Toronto through Saturday, May 12. Among tomorrow’s programming is a workshop on destination marketing, a panel on “Selling Mainstream Travel to LGBTQ Travelers” and a closing party sponsored by New York City, which will host the IGLTA convention next year.