The hospitality industry’s contact with gay and lesbian travelers in the 1960s and 1970s was a clandestine affair, relying on travel guides such as Bob Damron’s Address Book or the Spartacus International Gay Guide to provide members of the community with the acceptance of hotels, bars, and other businesses to point out.

Hotel advertising in the LGBTQ community is much more transparent today: Marriott and Hilton are just as present at Pride parades as they support legal issues. Both companies signed an amicus briefing in 2015 calling on the US Supreme Court to lift the ban on same-sex marriages. The Standard, High Line, in New York City kicked off Pride last weekend with an appearance by longtime ally Madonna.

But the hotel industry also sees the “Wash rainbow“Backlash other industries have had in recent years for throwing a rainbow logo for June but not doing much for the community – sometimes even to candidates who speak out against LGBTQ rights – for the remaining 11 months of the year .

Hotel companies try to avoid this criticism with various internal initiatives, political support and marketing campaigns.

“There’s still a room for those really special Pride moments and a room to acknowledge what Pride is really about,” said Cherilyn Williams, Senior Global Marketing Leader at Marriott International. “But I think what’s more important is what happens on July 1st. What happens after Pride? How can we help keep the conversation going year-round and make sure it’s part of our stories in a natural and inclusive way, rather than just once a year? “

Looking beyond June is nothing new for the hotel industry, which supported the LGBTQ + community relatively early compared to other industries. Given the backlash that companies in other industries have received over the past month over conflicting political positions, this is a smart plan.

Companies like CVS Health, Wells Fargo, and Comcast all came under fire this year for supporting Pride but also donating money to political candidates who oppose LGBTQ + issues.

The hospitality industry has been a community ally through some of its major political issues in recent years, with many companies supporting the push to legalize same-sex marriage.

“It’s all about going the path,” said Raina Nelson, program manager, workplace equality programs for the Human Rights Campaign. “It is great to fly a flag and get social media posts, but supporting LGBTQ causes and the community in a concrete way is a true ally.”

Marriott was a notable proponent of marriage equality, given the Mormon beliefs of the Marriott family. The official stance of the Mormon Church is against marriage equality.

Religious beliefs don’t mix with the business of the world’s largest hotel company, and so the company also avoids the kind of backlash at Chick-fil-A, the fast food chain long behind its founding family’s history of charitable causes to anti-LGBTQ causes.

“We need to take care of our employees regardless of their sexual orientation or anything else,” said Bill Marriott, Executive Chairman of Marriott International. said Bloomberg in 2012. “Our church is very anti-alcohol, and we are probably one of the biggest spirits sales drivers in the United States. I do not drink. We serve a lot of spirits. You are in business. You have to make money. We have to appeal to the masses out there, no matter what their beliefs are. “

Kimpton and W Hotels are considered to be some of the first to actively promote the community, with Kimpton – before it was acquired by IHG – becoming the first hotel company to achieve a perfect score on the Corporate Equality Index of the Human Rights Campaign, an annual report on company policies, in 2004 towards LGBTQ employees. W Hotels was the first hotel brand to appear in New York City’s annual Pride Parade.

Both Hilton and Marriott have launched more inclusive advertising campaigns over the past decade, with Hilton’s “Stay Hilton, Go Out” campaign from 2012 encompassing history, culture and nightlife in top LGBTQ travel destinations.

Marriotts # LoveTravels campaign With members of the LGBTQ community like NBA player Jason Collins and model Geena Rocero joined two years later.

Building a foundation

One of the most important things a hotel company can do to attract LGBTQ + travelers is having a good reputation with their employees, said Henry Harteveldt, travel analyst and president of the Atmosphere Research Group.

“What really matters in marketing is how to start from the inside out. This is an area where travel generally works better than most other industries, ”he added. “What matters is authenticity. Anyone who is a member of the community can spot something that is wrong. If a brand’s reputation shows that it does not welcome LGBTQ guests or does not support its LGBTQ employees, then the community will see everything that is done during Pride Month as rainbow wash. They won’t see it as authentic, meaningful, or sincere, and they’ll just scroll the page or basically ignore it. “

Perfect results in the HRC’s Corporate Equality Index are basically an industry standard these days. Hyatt and Marriott were among the first major hotel companies to offer life partner benefits years before marriage equality became law in the country. Marriott executives also noted their transgender health benefits for employees in an interview with Skift.

“There is a difference between being physically somewhere and feeling part of it, and we strive to be part of it,” said Apoorva Gandhi, vice president of multicultural affairs and corporate councils at Marriott, adding, laughing, “They always say diversity is invited to dance . Inclusion is encouraged to dance, and belonging means to dance like nobody is watching. “

Hilton hosts numerous community support events throughout the year and offers comprehensive services for LGBTQ + team members and loved ones, including transgender conversion. The company launched an adoption assistance program in 2017, under which Hilton team members reimburse adoption costs of up to $ 10,000 per child.

“You can’t really support a community without focusing on everyone we serve, including guests, groups, and our own team members,” said Amy Martin-Ziegenfuss, Hilton Senior Vice President of Global Enterprise and Brand Marketing. “By focusing holistically on all of these elements, Hilton benefits from becoming a stronger, more inclusive organization.”

The confines of the allies

Supporting LGBTQ + workers and travelers is the right thing, but there is a financial benefit too. The US LGBTQ + travel industry is roughly $ 115 billion, Martin-Ziegenfuss said, referring to a study by Community Markets & Insights.

But the US is one thing. These are global companies that also operate real estate in parts of the world that are not as friendly – and sometimes even hostile – to the community.

“It’s not always perfect, of course, and one of the challenges facing global brands is that sometimes company values ​​and beliefs collide with local policies or laws,” said Harteveldt.

Outside community support is illegal in some countries. Both Marriott and Hilton are supporters of the Global Equality Fund, a public-private partnership that aims to promote LGBTQ + rights around the world.

“We know that every country is a little different,” said Gandhi. “Our commitment is to protect privacy within the walls we control. We always make sure that we treat everyone with dignity and respect – no matter who you love or who you are, whether you are a guest or an employee – in the walls we control. “

While some parts of the world do not live up to LGBTQ rights, organizations like the International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association are working to ensure that businesses can continue to provide a hospitable environment for these travelers in all countries.

This can mean something as basic as training staff not to question when a same-sex couple is checking in and requesting a room with a single bed. The organization works with companies such as Accor, MGM Resorts, Hilton, Marriott and Airbnb.

“Understand and recognize our partners [some countries aren’t as supportive toward LGBTQ+ individuals], but they still want their staff to be trained because LGBT travelers travel to these destinations for business or possibly leisure, ”said John Tanzella, CEO of IGLTA. “LGBT people, LGBT organizations and of course LGBT travelers live there.”

The next inclusive limit of hospitality

The goal of the hospitality industry is obviously to reach a point where inclusive marketing campaigns and political support become so natural that they do not warrant media coverage. But until that day comes, there are other short-term goals.

The IGLTA continues to contribute to global marriage equality efforts, as has legalization efforts in Bermuda in recent years. The organization, as well as its travel industry partners such as Carnival Corp. have expressed support for the legalization effort, and more of that is likely around the world.

“It’s really about harnessing the economic power as well as the social impact on our community,” said Tanzella. “It’s kind of a base, first start.”

The brands themselves are very supportive of and celebrate Pride, but they are also driving more inclusive campaigns, employee practices, and political issues.

“The focus will continue to be on things that some communities take for granted, such as feeling safe when traveling,” said Martin-Ziegenfuss. “Smart marketers will continue to listen to, learn from, and develop with LGBTQ + travelers. It may feel like we’re seeing less of the over-the-top marketing efforts, but if you think about it, it can be an indicator that we’re moving to a more inclusive place. And that’s great to see. “

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