Destination marketing organizations (DMOs) exist to draw visitors to their destinations. They want to create welcoming, inclusive spaces. Yet external or internal factors sometimes work against this innate drive to welcome visitors. In the past few years, there has been a significant increase in policies and practices that exclude gender-diverse individuals from society, including the joys and opportunities associated with travel. This contributes to a decreased likelihood of LGBTQ+ travelers, particularly those who are transgender, visiting destinations perceived to be hostile to their existence.

At Simpleview Summit 2024, Simpleview brought together leaders from three DMOs — Visit Lauderdale, VISIT Milwaukee, and Travel Portland — for a panel discussion moderated by myself, to take a candid look at this issue. Session attendees raised a number of excellent questions, not all of which could be responded to during the session.

In a follow-up conversation with Stacy Ritter, CEO of Visit Lauderdale, I was able to revisit several of those questions.

Stacy Ritter, CEO, Visit Lauderdale

Stacy Ritter
CEO, Visit Lauderdale

Q: How can I help change the atmosphere of our community when I am “highly encouraged” to be neutral?

A: If by neutral you mean not saying anything and being silent, I believe that tourism professionals are well-placed to talk about inclusion. Every destination wants people from all walks of life to visit and spend money. If you want to speak from a human rights perspective, it shouldn’t be offensive to anyone to say that everyone is entitled to respect and dignity as a human being and that being sensitive to people’s needs and wants is what hospitality is all about.  If a guest wants bottled flat water, we give them bottled flat water. If a guest wants to be addressed as “Mister,” that’s what we do. Anything less is inhospitable.

Q: What can destinations do when there are political signs aligned with noninclusive attitudes that make visitors feel unwelcome? We are a welcoming destination, but leadership doesn't feel it necessary to promote that. Do you have any suggestions for making that leap?

Speak out and speak up. If your destination is not that, like mine is, you must be loud and vocal about it. It isn’t enough to show pretty pictures of inclusivity.  You have to say it, too. 

These political headwinds are strong. Even in blue states, there are red destinations that don’t or won’t promote inclusivity. As the environment becomes more hostile and fewer places are perceived as welcoming, you need to double down on that message. I don’t know what assets your destination has but chances are there’s a red state/destination that has the same thing and isn’t promoting inclusivity. If your competitors aren’t marketing it, you need to.

Q: ​How do you handle local feedback that may not be ideal? 

I remind them of the economic benefits of being inclusive. It’s just good for business. Only a few in the anti-LGBTQ crowd turn away the money. Approach it from an economic perspective. Bring data that shows per person spent.

Q: ​​How can DMOs band together to amplify the message of inclusivity?

I have found that they don’t want to band together — they are much happier hoping it all goes away.  Fear is a big motivator, and they are afraid to be vocal and noisy. My belief is that there is power in numbers and a group of people speaking with one voice is far more effective than a singular voice. I take comfort in the fact that we are on the right side of history and that, hopefully, that message is getting to visitors who might otherwise be reluctant to come here. But if you can’t get a group together to do it, be the lone wolf.

Q: ​​What are your recommendations for making language on our site more inclusive, especially regarding “personas” (men’s and women’s trips, etc.)?

Use gender-specific language only when sure of the audience. I always use the example of a TV crime show: when they don’t know who the perpetrator is, the word “they” is used, as in “we don’t know what they were thinking when they did this.” That’s because no one knows if who did it is male or female.

Q: ​​How do you recommend navigating adding gender-inclusive bathrooms to our DMOs offices when leadership does not think they are necessary?

If you have staff meetings, bring it up then; let the staff be included in the conversation. Your leadership may not like it, but if you have broached the subject in private and nothing has happened, and if it’s important to the team, then talk about it. There may be a good reason why it can’t happen in an office space. Find out.

Andrea Carmichael, Product Training Specialist, Simpleview

Andrea Carmichael
Product Training Specialist, Simpleview

The following two questions I have answered from my experience and perspective as a transgender woman.

Q: Please explain the new definition of “queer.”

Queer is understood in various ways within the LGBTQ+ community. There was a time when it was used as an insult and a slur against LGBTQ+ persons, and for that reason many in the community rejected it. Others have reclaimed it and use it as a positive term that includes all of those whose gender identity or sexual orientation does not align with societal norms. There isn’t a specific definition that everyone agrees on. It is a term of self-identification. Someone who is not LGBTQ+ should not use it to refer to someone who is unless they specifically know that the individual is comfortable with that term. 

Q: What resources, if any, does the LGBTQ+ community utilize when planning travel?

I am not aware of any single site that is a “go-to” source for information when traveling as an LGBTQ+ individual. IGLTA offers very helpful resources (and many DMOs are members of IGLTA). I often consult the Human Rights Campaign website to see how a specific city or region rates on LGBTQ+ policies and issues. There are any number of groups available through Facebook and other platforms that offer valuable perspectives as well. Not every LGBTQ+ individual feels significant concern related to traveling, but for many of us, the current climate definitely instills a level of concern and a desire to research and be prepared before making any plans.

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