Photo Credit: Braden Summers / OutOfOffice.com
The travel industry has long been known as a safe haven for gay employees. Since the dawn of air travel the aisles have been filled with members of our community offering impeccable levels of service on flights worldwide. I'd even suggest, though I haven't looked up the statistics, that the percentage of LGBT employees in the industry is higher than in most other sectors.
But when it comes to catering for the LGBT consumer, the industry has fallen shamefully behind in its offering to provide a level of service and reassurance that we all deserve and expect.
How many companies do you see proactively doing something for the LGBT community? There are some, but none of the mainstream brands have made in-roads into reaching out to us. For years I've been longing to see a photo of a gay couple alongside a straight one.
In fact, a recent survey showed that one brand -- and I won't name names -- was perceived as gay-friendly, but the reality meant that their 64 page brochure didn't have one image of a gay couple in it and was covered in those of straight couples enjoying their holiday.
Why is that? We live in an age when gay marriage is legal, equal rights are in the headlines every week and "diversity" is the buzzword that corporations are using and is banded around Human Resources departments globally. So if diversity is so important, why is it that sexual orientation is still hidden away as if it's something that might offend or upset?
The large travel companies refuse to cater to their customers the way they should. With 7-10 percent of the population identifying as LGBT, shouldn't at least 7-10 percent of the marketing material these companies use be LGBT friendly?
Some of the biggest brands in the UK, making millions a year, can't even invest a little bit of their budgets into catering to a sizeable chunk of the market.
I imagine these brands would come back and say that the reason they don't is because they treat all their customers equally. That's great, but the reality is different. As an LGBT traveller there are a number of barriers to travelling. You can't treat everyone equally because everyone has individual needs and concerns.
I did a lot of mystery shopping with many of the major brands before I founded OutOfOffice.com. I asked them all whether the hotel would be suitable for me and my boyfriend. "I'm sure it'll be fine" was the reply I received from many. It hardly instills confidence.
A lesbian customer that booked with us recently told me of the problems she faced in her local travel agent (again a major national chain) when organising her honeymoon. She asked whether they would be OK at the hotel they were going to and the agent replied that they "just wouldn't tell the hotel". What's meant to be the most romantic holiday of your life and you're left to feel like a secret. No wonder they came to us to book in the end.
Hotels, tourist boards and tour operators need to wake up and realise that they may proclaim they offer everyone the same welcome, but the reality is that they don't.
Until these brands stop worrying about how to cater for the LGBT market and tiptoeing for fear of alienating their other customers they won't be able to claim they are equal. Our industry needs to wake up, shape up and innovate. OK, you may lose a few loyal customers, but you'll gain far more new ones - and we all know the LGBT community is one of the most loyal you'll ever be lucky enough to serve.