The gay community sometimes faces unique challenges during a trip or vacation. These challenges can vary depending on the place the guest is traveling to, the people traveling with them, and the way they define and present themselves - but for many in the community, the tourism experience is always accompanied by a certain apprehension.
As an industry, it is not enough that we recognize these challenges and concerns. We also need to carry out actions in the field to help tourists and tourism from the community - and tourists and tourism in general - feel safe, relaxed and welcome.
Why is it important to encourage tolerance and inclusion in the workplace as well?
Many times, the way we treat our guests stems from the way we treat our staff.
Before I started working at Accor, I lived in Spain for six months and worked as a drag queen in the hospitality industry. I had a lot of fun, but when I returned to Australia I was worried that I would have to leave that part of my life behind and find a 'serious career'. But in the end I was lucky and joined Accor.
At Accor they not only accepted this part of me - they also embraced it. I really didn't have to hide anything. I could come to work and be who I am, without concessions. They lovingly accepted my drag persona, and I even met with clients and hosted company events in drag.
From the first moment they allowed me to be who I really am in the workplace.
A personal example from the senior levels: change starts from the top
Our CEO, Sarah Derry, is very committed to diversity and inclusion, and I am personally a member of the workplace's diversity and inclusion committee. The management's involvement has helped us promote initiatives that can bring about real change. For example, we offer employees and employees who want to undergo gender adjustment paid and unpaid leave.
Thanks to their leadership, we were able to take part in events such as WorldPride 2023 in Sydney - an amazing celebration that lasted 17 days and included a parade of over 50,000 people on the Sydney Harbor Bridge. We designed a new logo and participated in several events around the city to show presence and be part of the community.
Once this is our attitude towards colleagues and towards the gay community in general, it is much easier to give the same attitude to guests.
The three areas you should focus on to offer a more inclusive hospitality experience to the gay community
Broadly speaking, I believe that in order to provide an inclusive and accepting hospitality experience, three key factors must be taken into account.
1. Interpersonal interaction and communication
Many people are a little afraid to ask a person who is different from them certain questions, because they think it might offend or be interpreted as ignorance. It's perfectly fine to ask people questions, if the intention is good.
For example, to verify the bed arrangements of a guest, you can simply ask the following question: "You booked a room with one queen-size bed, right?". You are actually stating a fact and speaking to the matter, and this is a question anyone can ask.
This is a much better solution, compared to the experience of a colleague of mine, who went on vacation with a partner and was asked a question that feels more judgmental: "Are you sure?".
Beyond interactions with guests, we need to feel comfortable communicating with each other within the workplace as well. For example, feel comfortable asking management how to handle certain situations, if you are unsure. It is possible to offer training programs to the team that will give them the necessary tools and knowledge to manage any interaction from a positive place and with good intentions.
For example, we have set ourselves a goal: every Accor accommodation in Australia and New Zealand will pass Booking.com's Travel Proud training .
The Travel Proud program fits perfectly with the work we are already doing - it allows learning the subject from the ground up, and the fact that it is very visual and accessible makes it ideal for team members whose English is their second, third or even fourth language.
And because it's a third-party program, people feel more comfortable getting involved and asking questions. In my opinion, everyone can and should go through the Travel Proud training.
Another important aspect is to openly express your support for the gay community.
Of course you can wave pride flags everywhere, but you have to do much more. For example, you can focus on conscious steps that will show how important the issue of equality and inclusion is to you - from the signage in the restrooms to the wording on the website. A simple step, such as clearly stating that your accommodation is gay-friendly, can make guests from the community feel much more secure.
The Travel Proud program helps us in this regard, because people who use Booking.com will see the Travel Proud label on all our properties and know that they are in for a welcoming experience.
One of the things I'm working on is to upgrade our invitation system, so that it responds to different types of forms of address and honorifics (like Mr. and Mrs.). It's a global reservation system, so accommodations from all over the world use it, and it has details of guests from different places - so naturally, it's quite complex to make changes to it. When we ask guests for their details with such sensitivity, we show them right from the start that it is important to us to make them feel comfortable and accept them as they are.
You probably won't do everything right 100% of the time, but the fact that you're trying is just as important to people.
In the end, the most important thing is to conduct yourself professionally.
In the hospitality industry, our job is to put guests first. In other words, you have to put your personal thoughts and opinions aside and know how to focus on the best interests of the guests in every situation.
Of course, this is true for all the guests, and this is exactly the point - a real bride means that you give each and every one the same warm, embracing and accepting attitude in every interaction.
- We need to help the gay community - and tourists in general - feel safe, relaxed and welcome
- An inclusive approach starts from the top, and at Accor this is a core value that allows people to be who they really are in the workplace
- It is important to know how to communicate with others, if you want to provide them with a more tolerant and inclusive experience. Appropriate training can provide staff with the tools and knowledge required to manage any interaction from a positive place and with good intentions.
- Visibility is also important - people will appreciate the very fact that you are trying to do the right thing
- Finally, being professional in every interaction, including with the gay community, can make people feel welcome while on vacation