JARREL DE MATAS
WHEN MARJORIE PADMORE composed the National Song, God Bless Our Nation, with the refrain “And take a pride in our liberty,” I am willing to concede that she was not referring specifically to homosexual equality.
Yet, if the ruling of Sections 13 and 16 of the Sexual Offences Act as unconstitutional is anything to go by, and notwithstanding the historical magnitude of the recent first ever Gay Pride Parade, our nation is slowly moving towards social inclusion. The significance of the Pride Parade cannot be understated because, amongst other things, it revealed a silent community that was ready to demand their equal space.
For this reason, I want to explore the impact of engaging the LGBT market as part of a tourism-focused strategy.
Global tourism recognises that human rights have a positive effect on economies, particularly as it concerns LGBT equality. This holds true even for a relatively young nation such as TT, which I argue can only stand to benefit from affirmations of LGBT pride.
My premise is predicated on a few truisms. Firstly, tourism is integral to the sustainable economies in the Caribbean. According to the World Travel & Tourism Economic Impact 2018, the Caribbean ranked first in the total contribution of tourism to: GDP (15.2 per cent); employment (13.8 per cent); investment (12.9 per cent); and visitor exports (19.8 per cent).
Secondly, our tourism industry is in dire need of stimulation. The Caribbean Tourism Organisation (CTO) visitor arrival statistics show a gradual decrease from 412,447 in 2014, to 439,749 in 2015, to 408,782 in 2016, to 394,650 in 2017.
Subsequent to this, the final truism is that our strategy for engaging tourist arrivals needs to explore niche markets if it is ever expected to be a viable tool for economic development.
Here I want to introduce LGBT tourism. After all, if at the heart of the tourism sector is welcoming people, then we can take this one step further as part of our move towards unconditional equal opportunities.
The world is watching us, as is evident from the numerous travel advisories warning visitors of the rampant crime. But when the British newspaper The Guardian covered the historic ruling of Sections 13 and 16 as unconstitutional, it also highlighted a country on its way to acknowledging the choices, rights, and liberties of its LGBT community, a community that is networked throughout the world.
Terms such as “pink dollar,” which describes the purchasing power of the gay community, and DINK (Disposable Income – No Kids) establish the general belief that LGBT travellers are optimal consumers who present big opportunities for travel and tourism industries.
People travel to places they expect to feel welcomed, and if we say to the LGBT market that your choice of sexual orientation is not welcome here, then we have ipso facto closed off a viable market opportunity.
With our tourism industry currently in shambles after a series of unfortunate ferry events, I rhetorically ask, “Can we afford to be picky when it comes to niche markets?”
Out Now Consulting research has estimated that in 2016, the LGBT tourism market was worth over US$211 billion.
Countries such as Brazil are tapping into this market through collaboration between the Ministry of Tourism and the Brazilian Association for Gay and Lesbian Tourism (ABRAT GLS). It is estimated that the Sao Paulo LGBT Pride Parade included 650,000 tourists who contributed to a 20-25 per cent increase in revenue during the event (Sao Paulo Tourism Observatory).
South Africa, in addition to providing same-sex weddings and honeymoon packages, has numerous events that cater to the LGBT tourist: Gay Pride Cape Town, Pink Loeries Mardi Gras, and Out in Africa Film Festival, to name a few.
LGBT tourism is a niche market that compels our stakeholders to enact a paradigm shift. When the Tourism Development Company was dissolved, two separate agencies were formed to market our islands separately.
Why not market our islands separately from the others in the Caribbean?
In the LGBT market Trinidad could potentially be poised to further diversify its tourism strategy by offering a unique experience that none of the Caribbean islands has yet been able to offer. Sun, sea, sand, and same-sex travel – which other island could compete on those grounds? While we desperately search for a tourism lifeline to jumpstart the industry, the LGBT market screams potential. Our stakeholders ought to heed the call.