Countries rejecting LGBT+ tourism are losing out on the pink dollar, conference hears

Michael Kajubi, a member of the LGBT+ community in Uganda, says that it is difficult living and running his tourism business there, but he believes his activism is bringing change.

Kajubi was one of the panelists on a discussion about the challenges in the LGBT+ tourism space, at the Internationale Tourismus-Borse (ITB) world travel trade show, which started this week in Berlin, Germany.

Delegates heard how Kajubi had lost his job in 2013 because his boss suspected he is gay. Instead of getting another job, knowing that there would be the risk of losing it again, he decided to start his own proudly LGBT+ business to operate tours for this group of tourists in Uganda – McBern Tours and Travel.

Pioneer

"It is not easy to live and work as an LGBT+ person in Uganda," he said.

Kajubi, a pioneer in his own right, said that he wanted to open doors for the LGBT+ community to come to Uganda through tourism. It is important to create a safe environment for them – there are LGBT+ people who want to visit Uganda but they do not want to spend their money in countries which are discriminatory, he said.

Tourists who identify as LGBT+ are looking for travel destinations where they know they are protected by legislation, another panelist, Dr Stephan Gellrich, part of the LGBT+ network PRIDE at Accenture, said.

Spending power

Gellrich said the spending power of the LGBT+ community, from across the world combined, is larger than Germany's GDP.

But people who spend their money want to be really sure that they are doing so in an environment where they feel safe. Some people choose not to go to destinations if they feel there is a risk that they will land in legal trouble because of their sexual orientation.

Gellrich called for more dialogue to create a better understanding of the LGBT+ community and the challenges they face.

Rika Jean Francois, the CSR commissioner of ITB Berlin, shared how tour guides in Morocco refused to lead tours for LGBT+ tourists over religious reasons. An LGBT+ guide stepped in to fill the gap but was eventually discriminated against by the other tour guides because he was making more money.

The business case

Francois said that the business case was probably a key starting point to changing views of the LGBT+ community. "We have to fight it on this channel," she said.

Helmut Metzner, from the Lesbian and Gay Association Germany, however, argued that it's not about the business case because people need to understand that human rights are at risk.

There are extremes in the world - on one hand there is SA with a Constitution that encourages diversity, while LGBT+ individuals from Malaysia have sought asylum in Germany, he said.

Metzner said that the LGBT+ individuals should not be expected to hide. They are alive today and are entitled to human rights standards today, he argued. He implored key stakeholders in the tourism industry to implement standards to help LGBT+ people and businesses like Kajubi's which are facing discrimination.

"Everyone is alive today, they deserve standards of human rights today," Metzner said.

*Fin24 is a guest of SA Tourism, which is exhibiting at ITB Berlin.

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