The Caribbean Tourism Organization UK hosted its annual meet-up in London last night – and the event included a panel discussion on ‘How to reach the LGBT market’.
The panel was made up of Tris Reid-Smith, Editor-in-Chief of Gay Star News, Sophie Griffiths, News Editor of TTG Media and Mark Duguid, Vice President for Commercial and Product at Kuoni Travel.
The event took place at Kensington Close Hotel, and was attended by various members of the CTO, a trade organization whose main objective is the development of sustainable tourism for the economic and social benefit of Caribbean people.
Said Reid-Smith: ‘It’s fantastic that representatives of one of the Caribbean’s biggest industries want to engage with the LGBTI community. We talked openly about rights and the current laws, religion, culture and how important it was to be honest and authentic.
‘I enjoyed hearing CTO members’ insights and was inspired by their passion for giving everyone a warm welcome to their islands.
‘I urged discussion with LGBTI people across the region and I’m delighted that others agree this is the way forward. By supporting and empowering that local community, we can change laws, provide protections and open up one of the most stunning parts of the world to new visitors, benefiting everyone.’
Destinations represented included Cuba, the Bahamas, Puerto Rico and The U.S. Virgin Islands – islands with widely varying LGBTI rights records.
Speaking to Gay Star News, Carol Hay, the CTO Director of Marketing for UK and Europe, said: ‘We were having a board meeting, and were brainstorming issues that we wanted to put on the table, that we felt needed verbal discussion. We said “Let’s look at the LGBT market.” It’s a market that, because of some legal ramifications, the Caribbean hasn’t been able to go after, and the Caribbean has received some negative press [for that].
‘So we felt if we had all our stakeholders together we could have an opportunity to look at the market, look at the assumptions about the Caribbean, and some of the steps we would need to take to minimize those assumptions – bearing in mind there are still legal implications outside of our control. But at the end of the day, what the Caribbean is aiming for is diversity and inclusiveness.’
She added: ‘I was pleased with the level of engagement from the attendees. I felt people were honest, open, brave and touched on issues such as the legal side. I was expecting an interesting and engaging discussion because the Caribbean has that sort of vibrancy to it.
‘But we’re also aware that we do have some challenges, and that we will need to, in time, adjust the thinking, behavior and culture that is stopping us from maximizing the true business potential with the LGBT market.
‘It’s not the same belief values in every destination in the Caribbean. We learn from each other, and over time there will be greater understanding. It’s a work in process, it takes time.
‘I’m optimistic, but I’m also mindful of the fact we can’t force our beliefs on to anyone, whether it’s the beliefs in the Caribbean or our beliefs in the marketplace. It takes acceptance, tolerance and engagement.’
‘By having an open discussion you get a better indication of the way forward. Today, people thought of things a little differently.’
For more information about the Caribbean and the CTO, click here.