While established LGBTQIA+-friendly destinations, like West Hollywood and Mykonos, have long been a beacon for pink tourism, there is a growing momentum towards recognising the potential of emerging destinations in Africa. LGBTQIA+ communities in countries like Kenya, South Africa, and even Morocco are spearheading LGBTQIA+ travel and tourism, boldly illustrating how pink tourism can drive economic growth and societal progress.
“The development of LGBTQIA+ tourism in emerging destinations is not only a step towards promoting human rights and equality. It can also drive economic growth, create job opportunities, and bring new perspectives and cultural exchange,” explains Amine Gabbouj, Foundation Coordinator for the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association (IGLTA).
It’s an exciting space brimming with possibilities, many of which were explored at EQUAL Africa this past April, where Gabbouj hosted an inspiring panel with guest speakers Rodney Otieno, Director of WK Inclusive Travel and co-founder of Queer & Allied Chamber of Commerce Africa (QACC Africa) who is based in Nairobi, and Mandima Qunta, Managing Director of The FAM, a social impact creative agency in Johannesburg.
Gabbouj is from (and lives) in Morocco, one of the 70 countries that still criminalise homosexuality. “Given that I am someone from one of these countries, it’s of great personal significance for me to delve into the topic of LGBTQIA+ tourism,” he shares. “The tourism sector is one of the fastest growing sectors globally. However, we should not deny that not all groups of people can benefit from this growth. We all know that everybody loves travelling, but sadly, travelling is not easy for everyone because not everybody has the ability or the privilege to do it in a very easy way, especially the LGBTQIA+ community.”
So, where do we go from here? How can we expand LGBTQIA+ tourism in emerging destinations, especially in Africa? These are some of the insights that came from the panel:
Collaboration is a recurrent theme that can open the way for major change. Gabbouj explains how private sector involvement can create growth for LGBTQIA+ tourism: “First of all, we have the direct employment of LGBTQIA+ people, thus supporting their families. The second point is connecting LGBTQIA+ (and LGBTQIA+-friendly) businesses to our community, supporting local causes by creating conversations, not necessarily through donations, but also through staff skills, mentoring, and staff volunteering, providing a space safe space that supports the interaction between visitors and the local LGBTQIA+ communities.”
Otieno elaborates on LGBTQIA+ supply chains: “If a queer person owns a kiosk selling vegetables, we should be able to connect him with a queer person who owns a hotel. It’s a matter of creating those links.” QACC Africa is fostering this kind of ecosystem, where LGBTQIA+ suppliers, investors, and travellers are aware of each other and can connect.
Queer mapping on a digital platform is a concept that can also contribute to this ecosystem, as Qunta points out: “It’s one of the fastest solutions that we can implement… all of the people who work in tourism all over the world who are queer and want to be visible can be accessed through a giant digital map.”
Visibility and inclusivity training
Education and exposure are vital in driving diversity, equity, and inclusion. “It’s a soft educational process of actually taking away that stigma of being queer, to shift the conversation from the stigma to actually seeing a queer person as a human who is just the same as you,” Otieno explains. “As tourism professionals, we can introduce more inclusivity training with staff, with tour operators, with everyone. I love the IGLTA accreditation program. If we have those running across Africa, even when there’s no legal framework that protects queer people on a national level, having inclusivity training is very important.”
Qunta agrees: “It’s something that’s a common thread – education, education, education. With a bit of education and a bit of exposure, by being visible, you’re able to change mindsets.”
Allies can contribute to creating inclusive tourism in a significant way.
“A person who’s straight holds so much power – before you book a holiday, you can go through the company’s website and see if they have inclusive policies, and instead of choosing the best deal, you can choose a company that is inclusive,” says Otieno. “And it can go beyond that. You can ask companies the difficult questions, like why they don’t have inclusive policies. As straight people, you can ask these questions without it being retributive in terms of you won’t be punished for it. But as a gay person, if I ask those questions, it’s seen as coming with an agenda.”
Interestingly, when it comes to countries, boycotting might not be the answer. “Something that I learned through IGLTA changed my perspective – that you’re anti-boycott, you want to stay in the country to support the people,” comments Qunta. “If we all leave, it will make the situation worse.”
“Many times, people have asked me why I don’t leave to go abroad, especially as I now work with an international foundation. But this means I would have to abandon my family. I would have to abandon my country.” expresses Gabbouj. “I truly love Morocco, but, of course, the legal framework is not for queer people. So I want to stay and do the groundwork, which is very, very important.”
Younger generations hold remarkable potential for driving progress in LGBTQIA+ rights, recognition, and inclusivity in tourism and society as a whole.
“With the younger generation, I see where the future is. Gen Z challenges older generations to be more accepting and more inclusive. They make us question things,” says Otieno.
This inter-generational collaboration builds a foundation for a better future, fostering openness in emerging destinations like Africa.
Qunta echoes this optimism: “The younger generation has such a huge advantage – the world is so open for them. And I encourage them to be daring – do whatever you want, be whoever you want, because this is the perfect time to do it. Governance may be lagging behind, but society is waking up and is more open to things.”
Though the LGBTQIA+ tourism landscape is still full of obstacles, it’s also full of promise and opportunities. As Gabbouj says, “The challenges faced in LGBTQIA+ tourism in Africa are undeniable. However, I believe that the ability of tourism to build bridges is equally powerful. Through community engagement, supporting local LGBTQIA+ businesses, and the collaboration of the industry at large, we can create a landscape that is safe and inclusive.”