Africa Travel Week

EQUAL Africa 2022: Don’t pinkwash our pride

If you have ever wanted to tap into the LGBTQ+ market, the time is now – that’s the message at EQUAL Africa 2022. Held annually at Cape Town International Convention Centre alongside WTM Africa, the one-day show is dedicated to the LGBTQ+ traveller.

This year’s live event kicked off on 11 April at the Cape Town International Convention Centre (CTICC), delivering a full day of networking opportunities and panel discussions unpacking marketing best practices to cater to this ever-growing market.

“EQUAL Africa has become an integral component of Africa Travel Week, providing a specialised platform for travel suppliers and buyers targeting the LGBTQ+ community,” says Martin Hiller, Creative + Content Director: Travel, Tourism and Creative Industries at RX Africa.

“Our official partnership with the International LGBTQ+ Travel Association (IGLTA) allowed us to welcome global experts to share their insights and strategies on attracting these travellers in an inclusive way.”

Speakers invited to present this year included LoAnn Halden, Vice President: Communications for the IGLTA, Micheal Gladwin, Managing Director of Afrigay Travel, and Jason Fiddler, Founder of KZNGLTA.

Say no to pinkwashing

A central theme highlighted at the show was that of pinkwashing, and how to avoid it. Pinkwashing (or rainbow-washing) occurs when a business publicly tries to show support for the LGBTQ+ community while privately doing very little to support and assure these travellers.

“It’s the equivalent of slapping a pride flag onto a company material, without fully understanding the needs and desires of this market segment,” says Michael Gladwin, MD, Afrigay Travel. “To us, that’s a tactic, not a strategy, and can come across as offensive.”

With a focus on tourism recovery, EQUAL Africa discussions cautioned travel retailers and brands against insincerity while actively trying to tap into this market segment.

“If marketing campaigns don’t intrinsically align with your company values or are seen as a once-a-year, insincere nod, LGBTQ+ consumers may see them as hypocritical pandering,” adds Thami Kotlolo, Founder: The Feather Awards.

“It’s important for brands to move towards truth. Brands shouldn’t pinkwash, but rather lean towards communicating authentically and offering more visibility, not only during Pride Month in June or October. I want to spend my money where I’m valued and feel seen.”

Market with intentionality

So, how do you design a marketing strategy or travel experience that doesn’t pinkwash? With intention and sincerity, according to the experts.

“Being intentional with travel spend can make a huge difference in the long run,” Kotlolo adds. “If you’re dedicated to succeeding with this market, it’s time to think long-term and invest in making sure you include the right people in the conversation. Consult an expert. Ask a queer person how they want to be represented.”

Meg Ten Eyck, CEO of Every Queer, further advises companies to join LGBTQ+ organisations and actively engage in training with their teams: “Many businesses task it to the token gay guy in the office. He might not want to do it, or be able to do it. He’s just gay – he’s not a marketer.”

During the EQUAL Africa panel discussion on How to earn Brand Loyalty from the LGBTQ+ traveller, an important factor emphasised is how the LGBTQ+ traveller community encompasses people from all over the world with diverse backgrounds and a vast spectrum of preferences and interests.

“Transgender travellers – we’re all different and travel differently,” adds lifestyle journalist, Kwin Mosby. We’re not often represented, and we’re not well represented, especially in luxury travel. If you want us to engage with your products, business owners will need to take leadership to attract us.”

The bottom line? It’s all about defining your strategy, according to Gladwin. “If you want to target LGBTQ+ travellers, you and your staff need to understand the culture and how to integrate it into your messaging. Make an effort to gain a deeper understanding – rather than just sticking a pride flag onto your marketing,” he concludes.

In case you missed it, the programme for EQUAL Africa 2022 included the following live sessions:

Welcome to EQUAL Africa 2022

Councillor Rob Quintas, LoAnn Halden

How to Make LGBTQ+ Travel Truly Transformative

Peter Jordan

Spotlight: KZN Gay & Lesbian Tourism Association

Jason Fiddler

A lesson on authenticity: A Radisson RED case study

Brett Delport, Leonie Andereya

Challenges of LGBTQ+ African travel and how to overcome them

Jason Fiddler, Siya Khumalo, Fundi Ndaba

How to earn Brand Loyalty from the LGBTQ+ traveller

Michael Gladwin, Kwin Mosby, Meg Ten Eyck, Thami Kotlolo

In conversation with Lipian Mtandabari, Director: Ntsako Travel Africa

Lipian Mtandabari, LoAnn Halden

Everyone Welcome: LGBTQ+ sensitivity and sales training for tourism and hospitality brands

Michael Gladwin

Beyond 2022: Trends for LGBTQ+ Travel

Peter Jordan, Lipian Mtandabari, Martina Barth, David Ryan

Dorine Reinstein