In our recent webinar, notable players within the travel & tourism space discussed the importance of tackling LGBTQ+ travel challenges in Africa, highlighting how businesses operating within this space can contribute to the industry’s progress across all markets and the LGBTQ+ market, specifically. There was a strong emphasis on inclusivity – and how it’s not enough to say your business is inclusive. Becoming an inclusive organisation requires action.
Helping guests feel “seen”
A big part of inclusivity is going the extra mile to make all guests feel “seen”, and a great place to start is with your marketing material, reviewing both the words and imagery you’re using.
Is every brochure and social media post featuring a picture of a smiling heterosexual couple? If so, no matter how welcoming and inclusive your content may be, your message just isn’t going to be perceived as sincere.
When you’ve made the surface-level changes to your brand’s content and visuals, don’t stop there. The next step, once you’ve successfully drawn a few LGBTQ+ guests into your doors, is to ensure inclusivity in all your communications with said guests. The most important aspect of this? Using the correct pronouns when speaking to them.
The importance of pronouns
Cisgender people (those whose internal gender corresponds with the gender that they were assigned at birth) often take for granted the correct usage of “him”, “her”, “he” and “she”. But address a cisgender man as “ma’am” or a cisgender woman as “sir” and you can be sure you won’t be met with happiness or understanding!
Essentially, when mis-gendering a person (even if it is accidentally), you’re questioning that person’s core identity, which will unsurprisingly leave them feeling hurt, embarrassed and/or offended – and this is especially so for a member of the LGBTQ+ community, who has likely been faced with this their entire life! Always keep in mind that, for most people, their pronouns, and the gender with which they identify, are directly tied to their sense of self and their self-worth.
How to prioritise pronouns
Luckily, it’s really easy to avoid making the common misstep as explained above. Most importantly, make using people’s chosen pronouns a priority across your organisation – not just when it comes to your guests. Enquire amongst your staff which pronouns they prefer and proudly display them on their name badges and email signatures.
On a side note, it can be helpful to make an effort to hire a diversity of employees, including professionals from the LGBTQ+ community.
Next, don’t be afraid to ask! It’s highly unlikely that someone from the LGBTQ+ community will be offended when someone asks them about their preferred pronouns, even if they aren’t comfortable sharing them with you. Rather than coming across as you experiencing confusion, it shows a tremendous amount of respect that you’re not comfortable making assumptions based on how someone looks or what they’re called.
A great way to ask about pronouns is to first introduce yourself using your own preferred pronouns. Here’s an example of how you might reply to an email from a potential guest requesting details about your hotel.
“Hi! Thanks for your enquiry. My name is Anne. I’m the hotel’s general manager and I use the pronouns “she” and “her”. Please could you get back to us with your preferred dates, your preferred pronouns and the size of your travel party and we’ll forward you some more info from there!”
Of course, be sure to make this a standard practice within your organisation and not just something you do when you assume that a potential guest might be a member of the LGBTQ+ community. In the event that a cisgender guest enquires why you’re asking for such seemingly “obvious” information, simply respond that it’s your intention to address and refer to all guests correctly.
Be sure to ask your guests about their preferred pronouns directly, either leading up to their visit or, alternatively, by including “preferred pronouns” as part of your booking or “sign up” forms on your website.
What to do when a mistake happens
With all of the above in place, and by taking the time to educate your staff regarding the importance of correct pronouns, you should have plenty of happy guests. But mistakes happen, and it’s vital to know how to handle the situation when they do.
First, stop and acknowledge your mistake and apologise. State how you intend to do better next time and then move on. If it isn’t immediately pointed out to you and you realise that you made a mistake at a later stage, it’s always worthwhile to make a private apology to the guest or staff member, rather than simply correcting your pronoun usage going forward.
Ultimately, it’s the small details that culminate to transform an organisation and to get the industry moving in the right direction. Every change, and every effort, makes a difference. It starts with you!