A sort of watershed day for me really as, after more than 60 years in the travel business I was to discover an entirely different perspective of travel – another community’s view on vacations. At 07.30 I set off from Twickenham by bus and tube to Kensington High Street, the venue; The Roof Garden, somewhere I’d heard about, but never been to and I looked forward to seeing the Famous Rooftop Flamingos. The conference was the LGBT conference run by TTG (Travel Trade Gazette ) & Travel Pride.
Why go you may ask? As someone who has specialised for most of my life in Middle East Travel and Israel in particular I was drawn initially by the speakers, among who was the Director of Tourism for the Israel Government Tourist Office (UK) Sharon Bershadsky. I knew that after Miami, Tel Aviv ranks high in the LGBT communities “where to go” list and I thought that apart from seeing the Flamingos I might also learn a bit – and I did! I have a soft spot for Israel as you will see if you read on.
The speakers were by far, more interesting than the delegates, a mixed bunch of travel trade retailers and related suppliers. But the speakers represented some of the most respected and powerful travel organisations, who had tailored some or all of their products to this growing but fastidious market place – that few others seem to care about. Moreover they had addressed their staffing attitudes to the community and were actively engaged in making their product more welcoming in this direction.
Royal Caribbean Cruises, Celebrity Cruises, Wyndham Vacations, Hoseasons and Virgin Holidays, all of whom follow the Ethos “Inclusion matters”. Then, fascinating to me, was Tris Reid-Smith, editor of Gay Star News, who gave an insightful talk on “safe” destinations. Fascinating to me as until now ‘SAFE’ ( important as a specialist in the Middle East) meant following the Foreign Office advice – no go places for Brits to avoid, Bombs, Riots and insurgencies and now on the screen in front of us we are looking at a different worldwide map – blacking out a pretty sizeable chunk of Terra Firma.
Here you can find locations where you will not be discriminated against or asked to leave for unsuitable behaviour – where you are made welcome without question. There are more countries than you could think of where the community is unwelcome and it was refreshing to hear that there is a source for clear information.
Many speakers recounted alarming stories of unexpected actions they were submitted to and it is a good compliment to the Foreign Office advice, which does not concern itself to this area of inquiry
So, my whole perception of “safe” broadened, even though from time to time this subject had – I admit – surfaced. But I hadn’t really worried about it , and I will now. Of course, the LGBT community doesn’t often openly ask sensitive questions which is why I feel better for having gone (and seeing the Flamingos too) as now I appreciate the sensitivity of the market and am better equipped.
Going to the conference, because I was drawn by the fact that Sharon (from IGTO) was going, was also a reminder that a strong country like Israel could be so tolerant, re-assuring for me, as after Britain, Israel is next to me in my favourites. Safe as it is for the LGBT community it is also safe for all of us, I know, half my family live there and I am happy to tell you that Eilat in the Desert is a fun winter holiday where we say “The Sun Spends its Winter”.
If you want to know of other safe places around the world LGBT or other – get in touch.
Finally, Gaydio has collated presentation highlights into a half hour podcast covering all you need to know from the LGBT travel event of the year. You can find it here.