LGBTQ activists and businesses have expressed outrage over the International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association’s recent listing of three Trump hotels among its “successful businesses supporting LGBTQ tourism.” Trump, his administration and political party have all helped roll back LGBTQ rights nationwide, making the Trump hotels’ inclusion in IGLTA’s ranks seem wrong-headed and tone deaf.
We asked the IGLTA why they included the hotels and also asked a gay travel writer, a longtime LGBTQ travel industry professional and a tourist business owner their thoughts.
What’s the connection between IGLTA and Trump Hotels?
The IGLTA touts itself as “the world’s leading global travel network dedicated to connecting and educating LGBTQ travelers and the businesses that welcome and support them along the way.” But on July 5, it announced three Trump hotels — the Trump SoHo New York, Trump International Hotel & Tower Chicago and Trump International Hotel & Tower New York — as “successful businesses supporting LGBTQ tourism.”
By including the hotels among the others listed on their website, the IGLTA encourages LGBTQ travelers to do business with them. Considering Trump’s ongoing mistreatment of the LGBTQ community, one wonders why the IGLTA has included the Trump-branded hotels at all.
The inclusion of Trump hotels into the IGLTA isn’t new. In 2011, Michael Jones, Deputy Managing Director of the online petition site Change.org, petitioned the IGLTA board to “dump Trump properties,” citing Trump’s anti-equality views.
In the month following that petition’s creation, the IGLTA board planned to discuss whether to revoke the membership of Trump’s properties, but it’s unclear whether they ever took any actions.
This past weekend, we e-mailed the three following questions to the IGLTA:
1) Is the IGLTA 100% certain that these hotels in no way financially benefit current U.S. President Donald Trump? If so, how does IGLTA know this? If not, does the IGLTA have any further statement on endorsing hotels that benefit a president with a controversial LGBTQ rights record and administration?
2) Can you tell us more about the vetting process for LGBTQ-friendly hotels listed on IGLTA’s website? How does a hotel get included in the hotel listings on IGLTA’s website? Are the listings or the practices of the businesses listed there ever periodically reviewed? Can hotels or other businesses ever be removed from the list? If so, for what reasons?
3) Is it possible that the IGLTA might remove the aforementioned hotels from their website’s listings? Either way, what next steps will IGLTA take in helping reassure LGBTQ travelers and other LGBTQ-affirming travel partners that Trump is not benefitting from IGLTA or LGBTQ travelers?
IGLTA’s response so far …
IGLTA President and CEO John Tanzella said, “The Trump branded properties which are current members of IGLTA are independently owned hotels and not owned by Mr. Trump.”
“Of the three properties that are IGLTA members, two have been with the organization since 2012. Trump SoHo is owned by a California-based real estate investment company; Trump International Hotel & Tower New York and Chicago are condo hotels where each unit is individually owned; and these properties have hosted numerous same-sex weddings in its banquet and event space. Their catering sales associates have also completed the Gay Wedding Institute Certification Course to better serve the LGBT wedding market.”
Tanzella also sent us a link to the IGLTA by-laws, but neither he nor any other IGLTA representative provided any further insight into our three initial inquiries.
What does it take for a company to gain (and lose) an IGLTA membership?
IGLTA’s by-laws state that any person or group directly connected to the travel industry can gain IGLTA membership if they apply, pay dues and adhere to The IGLTA Professional Code of Conduct.
The Code of Conduct requires members not to discriminate on the bases of “sex, race, color, religion, national origin, age, disability status, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression;” to remain “accessible and accountable” to customers or clients” and “make every reasonable effort to act in the customers’ or clients’ best interest and benefit;” and to protect their confidentiality (except for extreme ethical or legal cases).
If a business violates these rules, their membership can be revoked by a two-thirds vote from IGLTA’s Board of Directors. The members are forbidden from financially benefitting in any way from their board seat.
One business has pledged to cut ties with the IGLTA over its explanation
In response to Tanzella’s explanation, Mark Goldstein, the owner of the Prana Rainforest Retreat, said, “As you can imagine, this explanation … is not going to go far to placate people’s feelings about sharing membership with destinations flying the Trump name.”
He has asked the IGLTA to no longer the Trump hotels, stating that the hotels’ hosting of gay weddings is “a very weak explanation as to why they are an accepted member of a strong gay and lesbian organization.”
Goldstein added, “The [IGLTA] board knows that Trumps money has ties to these hotels, how could it not? Even if there is just one drop of his blood mixed in with this, it is one drop too many.”
He has pledged to no longer participate in the IGLTA “as long as any business that uses the Trump name is a member.”
Is the IGLTA a force for LGBTQ cultural change or just part of the travel industry?
Rick Hurlbut, a 25-year LGBT travel industry professional and former IGLTA member, told Unicorn Booty, “IGLTA has taken great pains to avoid political activism, and has never supported banning or boycotting a travel supplier or destination that has a homophobic reputation.”
“At most, IGLTA will talk about a ‘buycott,’ wherein consumers are encouraged to patronize tour companies and destinations known to be gay-friendly. There is nothing in the IGLTA bylaws or mission statement regarding advocacy. So, in a sense, IGLTA is not contravening its governing documents by entering into a relationship with Trump-branded hotels.”
Hurlbut thinks that because two of the Trump properties in question became IGLTA members in 2012, at a time when his anti-LGBTQ bigotry remained mostly under the radar, the IGLTA might not have thought much about allowing them to become members.
“And one could argue,” Hurlbut says, “since the individual properties and their investors had done nothing wrong, it would be disingenuous to kick them out of the association after being members in good standing for so many years.”
“But,” he continues, “to say that IGLTA should have no qualms with a member whose actions have caused a stink, even if it’s a matter of perception, would be inconsistent and disingenuous.”
He believes that as IGLTA has become more dominated by international brands, they have “stopped being a member driven organization in favor of a marketing agency business model.”
By his personal account of IGLTA accommodation members (that is, resorts, hotels listed as IGLTA members), Hurlbut concludes that the IGLTA “is very close to being dominated by business interests outside of the LGBT community, if it isn’t already.”
In short, he thinks that IGLTA wants to serve as a bridge between suppliers and LGBT consumers, and doesn’t want to get involved in politics, lest it disturb its business model.
But despite the IGLTA’s reasoning and role, Hurlbut says, “The taint of homophobia around the Trump name is disconcerting. But unless someone is willing to mount a campaign in an effort to embarrass IGLTA into rejecting offending brands, there’s little else that can be done.”
Should we focus on changing the IGLTA?
Jim Gladstone, a longtime gay travel writer and marketing consultant, doesn’t share Hurlbut’s view. In fact, Gladstone thinks that pressuring the IGLTA may be a misuse of energy.
“Many IGLTA members make positive contributions to our community, in terms of employment policies, guest services, and charitable outreach,” Gladstone told Unicorn Booty. “And no doubt, there are some members more interested in attracting ‘pink dollars’ than in earnestly engaging with the community.”
However, Gladstone thinks that LGBTQ individuals who want to wield their economic power against the Trump Administration and the Trump Organization should avoid staying at Trump-branded properties and consider organizing a boycott demanding name changes.
“Having the Trump name removed from highly visible facades would have far more symbolic power and generate far more public discourse than chastising a relatively obscure trade organization of little interest to the general public,” Gladstone says.
He adds, “The energy it will take to continue squabbling amongst ourselves would be better spent applying pressure that will gain wide public attention.”
Gladstone believes that if such an effort started within the LGBTQ community, it could likely gain broader traction, forcing the general public to discuss what it means to support the president, his anti-LGBTQ administration and the power of individual citizens to affect broader cultural change.