My name is Rachel Lowenstein. I’m the Global Head of Inclusive Innovation at Mindshare, a global media agency, and my pronouns are she/her. In my role, I help brands think about how they can use media, marketing and technology for social good and use the economic empowerment that brands have to actually change world issues.
I was a main stage speaker at Click. 2023, Booking.com’s annual partner conference. I took part in a panel discussion about the need for brands to prioritise truth-telling in a world of marketing with purpose, with a spotlight on LGBTQ+ travel.
I also spent some time with the Booking.com team chatting about the importance of inclusivity in the travel industry. Here’s what I had to say.
There’s a shift in the way the travel brands are moving towards being more accommodating and inclusive
When it comes to the future of travel marketing, brands need to think about the role that social and political issues have on travellers and infuse it into their approach. This can include working with minority-owned media partners or publishers, especially those that are queer-owned.
Brands can also think about how to use their own positioning, representation and media to support and further creators and influencers from more marginalised backgrounds.
There's a lot happening with human rights right now, especially for queer and trans folks. Now more than ever, we have to think about the way that the private sector influences a lot as it relates to human rights. There's so much at stake, and we're starting to see a lot of brands moving and starting to protect and defend the rights of queer folks who are being attacked around the world.
Businesses need to ask themselves: “Am I being equal or am I being equitable?”
If you believe that you don't need to change how you do business because you already treat everybody the same, you have to fundamentally ask: “Am I being equal or am I being equitable?” These words are not synonyms of one another. People who are disadvantaged in some way or another need equity – they don't need equality.
I can use one very specific example for myself. Being autistic, I travel very differently. The travel experience for me, frankly, isn't great. It's a sensory nightmare. Hotels can be challenging, airplanes can be very difficult. What is equal for me and other people is not equitable for me. I need specific accommodations. I have a disability and therefore I need to travel a little bit differently.
You're leaving a lot on the table if you're not thinking about equity over equality – not just from a social impact perspective, but from a financial perspective. If somebody isn't able to travel, doesn't want to travel or doesn't feel safe to travel because those accommodations aren't being given to them, you're going to lose a lot of money along the way.
Looking at inclusivity from an intersectional lens is valuable for people from different backgrounds
The Neu Project is something that I worked on with Google outside of my role at Mindshare. It’s a fantastic resource guide for event planners, all aimed at making professional events more neuro-inclusive.
A lot of people can get a little bit overwhelmed at big industry events. Most of them aren't neuro-inclusive. But it’s important to think about things like giving very clear directions about what's going to happen at the events, and giving insights about the sensory experience of different panels and talks.
‘An Event Professional’s Guide to NeuroInclusion’ is a very comprehensive resource guide that leaves no stone unturned when it comes to looking at neurodiversity from an intersectional lens – especially because the neurodiverse community is quite diverse. We aren't just one thing. There's ADHD; there's autism; there's dyslexia; there's other forms of neurodiversity.
What we did with Google, which I thought was so special, is we had people from different backgrounds and different aspects of being neurodivergent come to the table and bring their own lived experiences – mine included – to help event professionals create events that are more neuro-inclusive, more accessible and frankly, just better for most people.
The Travel Proud programme is something that’s long overdue
I think Booking.com’s Travel Proud programme is fantastic. It’s something that's long overdue, and something that other travel industry partners would do well to model and think about.
We're seeing more and more Gen Z and millennials come out as queer or LGBTQ+. This is happening for a variety of reasons. One is that we've created a culture that is more accepting towards queer folks around the world. However, this comes with a lot of caveats with regard to the legislative attacks that are happening right now.
If you're going to grow your brand and business and you want to grow with a community like the LGBTQ+ community, it’s important to consider that there are a lot of us, we have disposable income to spend and we want to be travelling. In turn, you have to think about the ways and the approaches for you to make it more safe for LGBTQ+ travellers. The Proud Hospitality training can help give a fresh perspective on the challenges they face.
Inclusion should not be a marketing opportunity: it should be a fundamental part of how you do business
I think accommodation providers can do a lot to be more accommodating, inclusive and safe for LGBTQ+ travellers.
I think first and foremost is very clearly identifying your space as being LGBTQ+ safe and inclusive – and making sure that you actually are by training your staff. This should not be a marketing opportunity. It needs to be a holistic business approach. It should fundamentally be how you're doing business.
The first thing that a lot of folks will want to know, especially if they’re travelling in unsafe places for LGBTQ+ people, is this: “Is where I'm going to be sleeping safe for me?” Having that clearly identified can go a long way.
I also think simple things like honouring somebody's pronouns, using pronouns with your own staff, and making that very normalised has an impact, especially for non-binary people.
Other things you can do from a travel accommodation perspective include working with other local businesses and making recommendations for dining and other experiences that are safe and inclusive.
If people don’t feel safe and accommodated while travelling, they won’t invest in travel experiences
I was part of the Radical authenticity and marketing with purpose panel at this year’s Click. event. The number one thing that I want people to take away from this discussion is that although it is about social impact, it's also about business impact.
I want people to walk away knowing that queer rights and trans rights are human rights. But it doesn’t stop there. I want people to understand that this conversation of LGBTQ+ travel – and making it safe for us to travel – is a conversation about growing your brand and your business.
If folks, regardless of their identity – LGBTQ+, BIPOC, disabled, et cetera – do not feel safe and accommodated while travelling, then they won't be investing in travel experiences. And that's a lot of money that brands are leaving on the table by ignoring this conversation.
- Travel brands are moving towards being more accommodating and inclusive
- Businesses need to ask themselves: “Am I being equal or am I being equitable?”
- Looking at inclusivity from an intersectional lens is valuable for people from different backgrounds
- The Travel Proud programme is something that’s long overdue
- Inclusion should not be a marketing opportunity: it should be a fundamental part of how you do business.
- If people don’t feel safe and accommodated while travelling, they won’t invest in travel experiences