How far we’ve come
For LGBTQ+ travellers, every time we register at a hotel or introduce ourselves to a tour group, we’re likely outing ourselves – or lying. Nearly one–quarter of queer travellers try to camouflage their sexuality while on holiday, according to a recent survey by Virgin Holidays, a U.K.–based tour operator. The same survey found that one–third of LGBTQ+ travellers face discrimination – ranging from being stared at or laughed at to verbal abuse.
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Yet, despite these challenges, queer people are amongst the world’s most avid travellers. Around 86 percent of LGBTQ+ Canadians hold valid passports, compared to 65 percent of the overall population. We also use them. In a 2021 survey of more than 6,000 people, the International LGBTQ+ Travel Association (IGLTA) found that LGBTQ+ travellers will be the most likely group of people to travel post pandemic, with 73 percent planning to take a major trip in the next year.
The queer travel market is valued at $12 billion in Canada and an estimated $218 billion worldwide. And to capture it, countless destinations, including Colombia, Israel and Brazil, are positioning themselves as LGBTQ+–friendly places to travel. The state of Virginia, for example, cleverly plays on its 53–year–old slogan “Virginia is for Lovers” in a queer–inclusive tourism marketing campaign, showcasing “lovers” as “lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender families, couples and friends.” Travel brands are also investing in LGBTQ+ inclusion. Disney, for example, hosts its own Pride event, complete with accompanying swag. (Fun fact: Mickey Mouse looks great in rainbow pants.) Then there’s the luxury SO/ hotel chain, which has unisex bathrooms in the lobbies and “His & His” and “Hers & Hers” amenities in guest rooms.
Airlines, too, are making accommodations. In March 2019, United Airlines was the first to offer a non–binary booking option (although it wasn’t until October 2021 that the United States joined countries like Canada, Argentina and Nepal in issuing its first passport with an “X” gender designation). Since then, most major airlines have followed suit, including Air Canada, which has also changed its onboard greeting from “ladies and gentlemen” to the more gender–inclusive “everyone.”
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Even within adventure travel – an industry that’s long been dominated by white, straight men – operators have started launching LGBTQ+ travel groups. In 2022, Holiday River Expeditions – which runs group whitewater rafting trips in Utah, Colorado and Idaho – announced its expansion of LGBTQ+–friendly travel itineraries. “Queers have been in nature for a long time, we just weren’t visible,” says Lauren Wood, Holiday River Expedition’s trip director, who identifies as queer, lesbian and non–binary. They say the new LGBTQ+ exclusive itineraries are the result of better diversity in leadership positions and the growing number of safe spaces.