Tuesday, July 16, 2024
HomeTravelLet’s create travel technology solutions to be proud of this Pride Month

Let’s create travel technology solutions to be proud of this Pride Month


Pride Month fills my personal
and social life with pride about my identity as a married gay man. But as a
travel technology professional you know what doesn’t make me proud? The woeful
lack of technology that addresses the needs of LGTBQ+ travelers around the
world.

During Pride Month, and to a
lesser extent during the rest of the year, many travel companies create
marketing that appeals to LGTBQ+ personas.

But that’s not the same as making experiences, from inspiration to booking to experiencing
the product to post-trip, that actually have LGTBQ+ audiences in mind.

To make a comparison, that would
be like having an advertisement saying
you welcome people with disabilities but then not having wheelchair access.

But with many of the major online travel portals, be they an online travel
agency or hotel or airline or other provider selling direct to consumers,
that’s really the experience LGTBQ+ users have: We “tolerate” you but aren’t
actually doing anything to meet your needs.

Of course, we can’t blame travel
technology companies for the fact that homophobes and intolerant people exist,
or that there’s arguably an increase in such hateful views. In the United
Kingdom, for example, hate crimes against transgender people have hit a record
high in England and Wales, according to The Guardian.
This includes the travel experience, and for LGTBQ+ travelers stepping out of
their current environment and into the unknown is even more worrying than for heterosexuals.

In 2022, Booking.com did research on this
and suggested some improvements. A year later, we published another
in-depth study and, worryingly, found that the average “safety indicator” for
LGBTQ+ travelers was 3.5 out of 5, well below the heterosexual average of
4.1. 

Nor is it the fault of the
travel technology companies that this is a complex challenge to resolve. Homosexuality
is illegal in a great many countries around the world, particularly places you
might want to go on holiday. This means that for the travel businesses
themselves in some countries they might find problems too – for example, in
Russia it is illegal to promote homosexuality to anyone under 18, making it
impossible to publicly celebrate Gay Pride or encourage inclusivity among customers
or staff for fear of prosecution. Equally, a technology tool – say, for
instance, a filter or LGTBQ+ user feedback scoring – might receive backlash or
even fines or criminal proceedings in some markets.

This also raises data protection
issues; many governments around the world demand access to communications and
data, some of which may well – directly or inadvertently – reveal that someone
is homosexual. And then there is always the possibility that they could
alienate the “anti-woke” types (just look at the Bud Lite backlash last year)
and see losses as a result. A company with no customers can’t change attitudes;
they have to make money. We understand.

So what do I think that the
travel technology industry can do to begin bringing justice to the needs of
LGTBQ+ travelers? First would be having a LGTBQ+ chief officer at big travel
tech companies to test and enforce user experience, product development,
customer care, etc. Right now, the chief LGBTQ+ functions, where they exist,
are more like human resources roles.

Many in our community would
welcome greater promises of data protection and clear policies related to thinking
through what kind of data is collected that could be very concerning (resulting
in criminal conviction, or being subjected to violence) if it arrived in the
hands of the wrong government or group.

Next up, during the actual
search and booking phase of a trip, data on homophobic incidents could be made available
in the search phase. This data is already available from non-governmental
organizations and community groups, we just need to implement it.

Meanwhile, LGTBQ+ feedback and
reviews could be made available on mainstream platforms, particularly for
properties, as now you must go to LGTBQ+ specialist websites for any reliable
(if any) feedback. The reality is that LGBTQ+ travelers currently are forced to
create their own platforms like Gayhomestay or Misterbnb. Equally, we’d like more guides
that are integrated into the online travel experience. The content is out
there, gay communities already write their own travel
guides
.

And here is one easy fix worry
for many: Stop asking for gender in the booking confirmation process! All credit
due to Booking.com for not asking this. Please follow this lead, other
platforms.

To give an example of how confusing things can be,
Expedia offers “LGBTQ welcoming” properties. That’s a great initiative. But
it’s hard to understand how it works, as it still suggests quite a
few “LGBTQ welcoming” properties in Riyadh, for example, including local
hotel brands. This while Statista ranks Saudi Arabia highest in its index of the most
dangerous travel destinations for LGBT tourism worldwide in 2023. There’s evidence of an anti-gay law being enforced in recent
years. 

Hopefully, no one needs
persuading of the moral reason for making the kinds of changes I’m outlining.
But you might be wondering what the economic benefits could look like. After all,
we’re all working in companies and money talks.

The economic opportunity is not
just about the minority who are LGTBQ+, significant as they are in number
globally (and plenty of studies show them to have higher than average
disposable incomes). But also think about the groups traveling with people
within them that are LGTBQ+ or companies that want to ensure all their staff
feel welcome in the same way. Imagine how if you can meet the needs of this
quite sizeable group, then you can gain their loyalty, the holy grail of
marketing. And brands that do the right thing benefit long-term. Certainly they
gain the first mover advantage.

Of course, in recent years we’ve
seen some really welcome advances in the visibility of LGTBQ+ audiences around
the world, and travel has kept up with that. Just look at Airbnb’s campaign in
Australia and an Expedia ad
from 2013
. But it would be dangerous to
think that the challenge has been completed. It has not. Now is the moment that
we must go from “tolerance” to actually adjusting to the real needs of LGTBQ+
travelers.

The technology industry has made
enormous advances in innovation in just the past few years. If this June Pride
Month we can promise to start using some of that innovation to fulfill the
important needs of LGTBQ+ travelers, that would be something we could celebrate
that has an impact all year long.

About the author …

Janis Dzenis is the director of communications and public relations for WayAway.



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