Tourism

“The default is to go back into the closet”: Tourism has an LGBTQIA+ representation problem. Here’s how we fix it

Ali Coulton

Ali Coulton

For many, travel is an eye-opening experience that sparks curiosity and challenges our perceptions.

Travel pushes us to open our minds and see things differently. That’s what makes working in the travel industry so special and so rewarding.

But for LGBTQIA+ people, travelling to a new place can be a fraught experience.

“The default is to go back into the closet,” Michael Kabourakis, of Husbands That Travel told Travel Weekly.

Kabourakis has been travelling around Australia by van with his husband Charlie Douty for the past year with the ultimate goal of creating the first LGBTQIA+ travel guide of Australia.

Kabourakis said that for many LGBTQIA+ travellers it comes down to safety.

“Are you going to go to a new place and be able to just be yourself without fears of discrimination, judgement or even assault?” he said.

“Not so much in Australia, but when travelling internationally there is this thought of ‘am I going to be safe here? Will I be welcomed?’ or ‘am I going to be able to hold my partner’s hand?'”

More than 70 countries still consider homosexuality to be illegal, and in seven of these countries, it’s punishable by death, according to a recent Canberra Times article.

Even in destinations where these laws no longer exist, LGBTQIA+ travellers still face hurtful interactions such as being given two single beds, being misgendered or being treated differently by tour guides or hotel staff.

“What you have to consider is that most LGBTQIA+ people have come from a background of trauma and rejection,” Kabourakis continued.

“And so, especially when they enter a place they’re not familiar with, they fear that rejection. And that is something that they really don’t want to experience on holiday.”

A study carried out by La Trobe University in 2020, ‘Australia’s largest national survey of the health and wellbeing of LGBTQI people’, found that only around 30 per cent of some 6,800 participants felt accepted “a lot” or “always” in public and at mainstream venues and events.

As an industry that prides itself on inclusivity, there is a distinct lack of representation of LGBTQIA+ people in travel marketing, Douty points out.

“It’s the job of operators to invite the LGBTQIA+ community to be their full selves, as opposed to us having to kind of edge our way forward and see kind of how much we can be ourselves,” Douty said.

When Kabourakis and Douty began their trip around Australia, they started an Instagram page to document their journey and quickly found they had discovered a relatively untapped market.

“When we started creating [content] we saw that there aren’t really many other gay couples posting about their travels like this,” Douty said.

“Then we realised there is a complete lack of LGBTQIA+ representation in travel media.”

He rules this up to a potential fear of backlash and discrimination one can usually expect on social media, which also seems apparent in tourism marketing companies, prompting the couple to begin encouraging Australian tourism boards to increase their representation of the LGBTQIA+ community.

Now, they’re working alongside the Margaret River region’s tourism board to promote inclusive travel.

But they’re not the only ones who want to see more inclusive marketing in the travel space.

According to Dr Elise Stephenson, who was named among Google’s Top 50 LGBTIQ+ Australian leaders, now is a critical time for Australia to appeal to LGBTQIA+ audiences.

Next year Sydney is set to host WorldPride, the largest event of its kind, with 17 days of marches, festivals and conferences, placing Australia on the world stage.

“We’ll have a lot of LGBTIQ+ travellers from across the world coming to Australia,” Dr Stephenson told ABC News.

“And they’ll not only sit in Sydney, but they want to come and visit the [Great Barrier] Reef, head out to Uluru or other locations. LGBTIQ+ communities cut across every sector of society, every ethnic group, every age, every income bracket.

“How can we make sure they feel safe, supported, recognised and visible when it comes to these really big, public events?”

According to Douty, increasing representation with “the odd picture of LGBTQIA+ person or couple” is a good start. 

“[representation] shows a commitment to values of inclusivity. Even when people that aren’t even in the community see that it is an inclusive company, I think has a knock-on effect on even the usual heterosexual traveller, just knowing that this operator is at the forefront of inclusivity and diversity,” he said. 

However, he said, tourism operators need to have a “two-pronged” approach to inclusivity.

“So one step is marketing, but what they really need to make sure that they do is deliver on an inclusive experience as well,” Douty continued. 

“For example, a very simple concept for that for me and Michael is if you have the flag on your website, you should definitely have to flag at your check-in desk because that shows a commitment to values.

“Things like training your staff to be knowledgeable on local gay welcoming businesses, and events, and just raising awareness of the problems and the barriers that LGBTQIA+ travellers face.

“Just having awareness is the very beginning. Those things are all necessary to move towards being a more inclusive destination.”

You can follow Douty and Kabourakis’ adventures HERE.


Featured imaage source: gaysthattravel.com



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