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June 25, 2017

Is UNWTO and WTTC turning slightly pink in supporting LGBT travel?


LGBT including marriage equality, is a hot issue in many countries and a great opportunity for the travel and tourism business.

UNWTO and WTTC were able to stay out of this global discussion on how to categorize and include or exclude Gay, Lesbian, Transgender travelers into their policies and concept. As eTN reported today WTTC boss David Scowsill is caught between a rock and a hard place. This may very well also apply to the UNWTO Secretary General Taleb Rifai.

No doubt, the LGBT community contributes a significant amount to our industry. Leaders like David Scowsill  knows this. After all WTTC is  an organization claiming to represent the global private travel and tourism industry. According to WTTC,  it is the authority on World Travel & Tourism. WTTC works in tandem with UNWTO  representing governments as a United Nations agency.

Mr. Scowsill today delivered a speech at the IGLTA Annual Global Convention in Cape Town, South Africa. IGLTA stands for: International Gay, Lesbian Travel Association.  UNWTO was represented by Yolanda Perdomo. She observed the event.

It’s significant to have this conference in South Africa. South Africa is the only country in Africa allowing same sex marriages. South Africa is guaranteeing equal rights to their LGBT community.

In most other parts of the continent criminal penalties punish same sex activities and discrimination against LGBT travelers and citizens is openly accepted and in some cases encouraged.

The LGBT travel community had big hopes to get a push of support  from WTTC  today. Delegates traveled from all corners of the world to listen to David Scowsill  in Capetown and welcomed him with open arms.

It is of course significant for the WTTC president to attend such an event. No press releases were issued by WTTC, so it was a quiet exercise, but David showed up.

The audience in Cape Town was anxiously waiting to hear how LGBT travel is seen by WTTC and UNWTO. IGLTA delegates wanted to learn about upcoming and current policies in regards to equality.

Instead this audience listened to a speech mentioning global challenges including terrorism, but in no way was LGBT the focus for WTTC at this LGBT conference.

The audience was waiting to hear on how WTTC and UNWTO can help to stop open discrimination and fear for members of the LGBT community to participate and enjoy global travel and tourism activities. Unfortunately this was not addressed by Mr. Scowsill.

LGBT travelers contribute to the industry an enormous potential. The WTTC boss clearly separated himself from the audience and talked about “our issues” compared to “your issues”.

Annebeth Wijtenburg, Communications Manager of WTTC confirmed this policy of non inclusiveness. She told eTurboNews today “We are currently looking at adopting a position on LGTB. As part of our Freedom to Travel strategy we encourage travel facilitation for all travelers, however we have not spoken out about LGTB specifically and therefore would be unable to provide you with a comment.”

A feedback from a delegate attending the event said :  “Very nice generic speech. A few mentions of LGBT but nothing of specific WTTC action.”

WTTC just concluded their annual summit in Dallas, Texas, United States. WTTC did in details discussed women equality, however LGBT equality in tourism was not on the agenda.

Perhaps one only needs to follow the money trail to understand why.
Some WTTC members are highly supportive to include and not exclude LGBT travelers. It includes Bill Marriott, CEO of Marriott Hotels for example. He was a speaker at the WTTC event in Dallas and his company is ready to take over Starwood Hotels and Resorts and form the largest hospitality company in the world.

WTTC members  include airlines like Etihad,  the national carrier of the United Arab  Emirates. Attending the WTTC General assembly was the  CEO of Etihad Airways and also the head of the Saudi Supreme commission. He was seen  sitting next to David Scowsill  and actively attended panel discussions in Dallas. Also attending was the minister of tourism from Zimbabwe  who has ambition to become the next UNWTO Secretary General, and the minister of tourism from Uganda-  all known not to support LGBT.

As a matter of fact LGBT behavior is illegal in many UNWTO member countries. Many  paying WTTC members are located in countries where same sex activities are punishable by prison.

On the other hand UNWTO member, the minister from South Africa had  delivered a heart warming speech of support today at  the IGLTA congress opening in Cape Town.

One has to follow the money to understand the difficult position for UNWTO and WTTC to support the LGBT community in their efforts. It’s a lot easier and less political to support women equality and call it gender equality.

It appears WTTC and UNWTO leadership is sitting in between a rock and a hard place when it comes to support or not support, and when it comes to include or not include LGBT. However IGLTA is currently an affiliated member of the UNWTO.

Capetown is a baby step forward for both organization (UNWTO and WTTC) .
LGBT inclusion can no longer be ignored as a niche. Even though the UNWTO Secretary General never addressed equality for gays, lesbian, transgender travelers in details or proposed policies, today’s event is a positive signal.

In an email to eTurboNews,  UNWTO claimed to be a strong supporter of “this area”
The statement referred to this report:  
http://www.e-unwto.org/doi/pdf/10.18111/9789284414581

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