In the United States June is Pride Month and celebrated to honor the 1969 Stonewall riots in Manhattan while in the United Kingdom there is a similar observance in February. At the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association’s Caribbean Hospitality Industry Exchange Forum in Miami earlier this month there were sessions on the LGBT tourism and travel industry and what it means for the Caribbean. Times are changing in the Caribbean, even if if their changing at an ‘island-time’ pace.
Traditionally, Caribbean nations have been known for their homophobic sentiments, anti-sodomy laws, general unfriendliness towards gays and lesbians, and with the exception of a handful of hotels and a few islands, haven’t ever successfully reached out to this market.
It was just in 2004 that Sandals lifted its ban on same-sex couples, prompted by the fact that the United Kingdom banned their advertisements due to Sandals’ discriminatory policies. Lines in Sandals’ advertisements at that time actually included the caveat ‘mixed-sex couples only,’ which not only banned LGBT persons, but also groups of friends. No reason was publicly given for this shift on their stance, however a letter sent to Travel Weekly that ‘had been sent to travel agents to explain the revised policy. In the letter, then senior vice president of sales Mandy Chomat wrote that ‘as times and attitudes change, so must Sandals.’’
Sentiments are shifting, however slowly, and you can find ample evidence of gay-friendly island and resort suggestions in Trip Advisor forums where there are countless threads from people seeking advice on where it’s safe for them to travel in the Caribbean.
Here are a few stats worth considering:The LGBT tourism industry represents an estimated annual US $65 billion on travel in the USA alone according to Community Marketing & Insights.Click To Tweet In Europe, the gay tourism market has been estimated at €50 billion per year by the Gay European Tourism Association.Click To Tweet The adult LGBT community in the USA has a total economic spending power of more than $600 billion per year, according to Wietck Communications.Click To Tweet
Right now most of the Caribbean is letting other island destinations like Hawaii reap all the benefits of LGBT travelers. Furthermore, of the ever-important Millennial market, 71% favor same-sex marriage according to the Pew Research Center and 20% of Millennial themselves identify as LGBTQ.
If you’re after the millennial group travel market consider that in 2007 4 in 10 people in America (Pew Research Center) said they had a close friend or family member who is gay and by 2012 – I would imagine that the number is higher now a decade later.
There are a handful of Caribbean islands that do embrace same sex-marriage such as Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands which were covered by the U.S. Supreme Court Ruling. Saba, Bonaire, and St. Eustatius due to their ties to the Netherlands also welcome same-sex marriage though they’re not known to have populations with the same views.
Whether it’s staff training, marketing incentives, or offering symbolic ceremonies, there are things you can do now to make your Caribbean island resort more tolerant of LGBT couples and as you see from the countless forums and threads devoted to LGBT travel, word of mouth is one of the most powerful marketing tools.