We have written previously about how tour operators can be welcoming to LGBTQ+ tourists and mentioned some reasons why this demographic should matter(opens in a new tab) to the travel and tourism industry. LGBTQ+ travelers have historically led the way to recovery for the industry after times of major reduction in travel and tourism. We saw this occur post 9/11, for example, as well as after the economic crash of 2008. In general, LGBTQ+ travelers tend to travel more and spend more when they do travel. There are even organizations like the International LGBTQ+ Travel Association(opens in a new tab), a global network of LGBTQ+ friendly tourism businesses.
This is not just evidence that the tourism and travel industry is moving towards diversity and inclusion, but by being a diverse and inclusive industry it actually benefits the industry itself. That being said, there are still miles to go when it comes to making the tourism industry inclusive to all. Even within LGBTQ+ centered tourism organizations, we see less attention paid to the “TQ+” and a centering of the “LGB” experience. As LGBTQ+ is an umbrella term that encompasses a wide array of identities, not all LGBTQ+ identifying people have the same needs, experiences or struggles.
Traveling as a trans or non-binary person presents its own challenges and complications. Body scanners at the airport are binary, for example, that is to say the TSA officer only has the option to choose between scanning “female” and “male” and may register a trans or non-binary persons body as a threat or anomaly. Complications due to a name change or a person’s passport or ID not matching their gender identity are common as well. When it comes to international travel(opens in a new tab) it can go beyond complicated to dangerous, as there are countries where being transgender is criminalized and can result in corporal punishment or a prison sentence. Even in the US transgender protection laws vary from state to state and sadly 2021 became the deadliest year on record for non-binary and trans people(opens in a new tab), according to the Human Rights Campaign.
With all this in mind, how can we ensure we aren’t leaving behind the “TQ+” as LGBTQ+ tourism flourishes? What can tourism businesses do to be inclusive and accessible to transgender and non-binary people?
Here are a few steps tour operators can start taking to offer a more inclusive and positive experience for their transgender and non-binary guests:
1. Educate: The first step towards being trans-inclusive is educating yourself. Unsure of the appropriate terminology, what it means to be trans, or the difference between transgender and non-binary? Check out these FAQs put together by the Human Rights Campaign to get started. Don’t just stop at educating yourself, make sure your employees and associates know you are trans-inclusive, what this means, and that you expect the same from your employees.
Apart from making your tours more inclusive of all guests regardless of their gender identity, according to the Harvard Business Review, “effective diversity and equity practices have been found to positively impact the productivity of all employees.” You can read more about creating a trans-inclusive workspace here.
2. Pronouns: Often people use the pronouns associated with their gender identity. However some people do not identify with the gender binary at all and prefer to use gender neutral pronouns, such as they/them. Others are comfortable using more than one pronoun. If you aren’t sure what pronouns someone uses, rather than misgendering them and putting the burden on your guest to correct you, it’s better to ask which pronouns they use. Introducing yourself with your pronouns first is a good way to open the space for others to share theirs. Ask your employees to do the same when introducing themselves.
Do you require guests to fill out a form at some point before, during, or after their tour? In that case don’t require the guest to pick a title like “Mr” or “Mrs”. Similarly, don’t require guests to include their sex or gender if it has no relevance to the tour. If for some reason you do need to ask this, include another option besides female or male or a space to write a custom response.
Along a similar vein, keep in mind that the name or gender on many trans and non-binary people’s IDs, passports, or credit cards may not be up to date or match their identity. Rather than assume, use the name and gender they introduce themselves as and if you are unsure, ask.
3. Bathroom Access:For non-binary people, having to choose between a women’s or men’s bathroom can be a great source of stress. For transgender folks, there is always the fear of harassment or that their identity will be questioned if they choose to use the bathroom designated for their gender identity. Providing access to gender-neutral bathrooms is a great step towards making trans and non-binary guests feel welcome and safe. Does your tour include stops at multiple destinations or businesses? Try to keep bathroom access in mind when planning your tours. If gender-neutral bathrooms simply aren’t an option, providing access to private rather than shared bathrooms may be more comfortable for trans and non-binary guests.
4. Get involved: Support your local LGBTQ+ organizations and businesses. Be explicit with a sign, flag or note somewhere on your website or in your business window. Consider registering as an LGBTQ+ friendly tourism business through the International LGBTQ+ Travel Association or TransFriendly(opens in a new tab), a global transgender friendly business directory.
Being inclusive of transgender and non-binary guests may seem like a challenge at first, but as we see the tourism and travel industry becoming increasingly more diverse and inclusive, taking these steps now can help your business be ahead of the curve and ensure your tours are a safe, positive and welcoming experience for all guests, regardless of gender identity.
Still have questions? Read more about being a trans ally here.
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