Three elements that help Accor build a more inclusive LGBTQ+ guest experience
Members of the LGBTQ+ community often face additional challenges when travelling. The nature of these challenges can vary depending on where the guest is travelling, who they’re travelling with, how they identify and how they present themselves, but for many it will remain a constant source of concern.
As an industry, we need to not only be aware of these challenges and anxieties, but also actively work to help these travellers – and indeed all travellers – feel safe, comfortable and welcome.
Why inclusion in the workplace matters
How we think about inclusivity for our guests can often start with how we think about inclusivity for our staff.
Before I started at Accor, I spent six months in Spain working in hospitality as a drag queen. I had a lot of fun, but when I came back to Australia I worried I’d have to leave that part of my life behind in pursuit of a ‘serious career’. That was until I was lucky enough to join Accor.
Accor didn’t just accept this part of me – they celebrated it. Far from being something I had to hide, I was able to bring my whole self to work. They embraced my drag persona, and I’ve even done site inspections for clients and hosted events in drag.
From the get-go they were open about me being who I am – the true me – in the workplace.
Leading by example: it starts from the top
Our CEO, Sarah Derry, is incredibly passionate about all kinds of inclusivity and diversity, and I myself am on the Diversity and Inclusion Committee. Such senior-leader involvement has helped drive initiatives that can make a real difference, like our policy to offer colleagues paid and unpaid leave to help affirm their gender.
This kind of leadership also helps us get involved in events like Sydney WorldPride 2023 – an incredible 17-day celebration (which even saw 50,000+ people marching across the Sydney Harbour Bridge). We designed a new logo and joined a number of events across the city to really be present and part of the community.
With this level of acceptance for our colleagues and the wider LGBTQ+ community, it makes it so much easier to offer the same to our guests.
The three factors for a more inclusive LGBTQ+ guest experience
Broadly speaking, I believe that creating an inclusive experience for guests requires three key factors.
Many people feel slightly fearful of asking questions to those who are different to them, worrying that it might come across as ignorant, or even insulting. The truth is that it’s okay to ask people questions if it comes from a good place.
For instance, it would be completely acceptable to confirm a guest’s bedding arrangements with a simple: ‘You’ve booked a room that has one queen bed. Is that correct?’ It’s factual, to the point, and could be asked of any guest.
That’s much better than how a colleague of mine was asked when he was travelling with his male partner, which was with a more judgemental ‘Are you sure?’
In addition to this type of communication with guests, we need to feel comfortable communicating internally too. That means feeling able to ask managers how to handle situations you aren’t sure of. Getting access to training can help equip staff with the skills and knowledge to go into every interaction with the right intentions.
For instance, we’ve set ourselves a target to get every Accor property in Australia and New Zealand certified in Booking.com’s Travel Proud programme.
Travel Proud is the perfect complement for the work we’re already doing – it really takes things back to basics and is very visual and accessible, which is ideal for a workforce where English might be someone’s second, third or even fourth language.
Then the fact that it’s from a third party means people can feel more comfortable to get involved and ask questions. Travel Proud can be done by anyone, and in my opinion should be done by everyone.
The second important aspect is about being visibly supportive of the LGBTQ+ community.
This goes beyond simply having rainbow flags everywhere, and instead is about taking conscious steps to show that you’re inclusive, from the signage for your restrooms to the language on your website. Something as simple as a direct declaration that you’re an LGBTQ+ welcoming property can be hugely reassuring.
The Travel Proud programme helps us with this aspect, as travellers using Booking.com will see the Travel Proud badge for all our properties and know that they’ll get a truly welcoming experience.
One thing I’m working on is to update our booking system to be more inclusive around pronouns and titles. As a global booking system covering properties and guests from around the world, it’s understandably complex to make changes to. But getting these details right signals to guests from the very start of their experience with us that we want them to feel comfortable, and that their whole self is welcome.
You’re not likely to get everything right 100% of the time, but it can mean so much when people see that you’re trying.
Ultimately, the most important aspect is simply acting with professionalism.
In hospitality it’s our job to put the guest first. That means, regardless of your own thoughts or opinions, it’s about being able to focus on the best thing for the guest in any given situation.
Of course, this is true for all guests, and that’s really the point – real inclusivity is simply offering the same level of warmth, care and welcome to everyone, in every interaction.
- We need to help LGBTQ+ travellers – and indeed all travellers – feel safe, comfortable and welcome
- Inclusion starts from the top and is a core value at Accor, allowing people to bring their authentic selves to work
- Communication is key to more inclusive experiences. Training can help equip staff with the skills and knowledge to go into every interaction with the right intentions
- Visibility is important too – when people see that you’re trying, it can mean just as much as getting things right
- Finally, professionalism in all interactions, including with LGBTQ+ guests, can help people feel accepted during their travels