May 10, 2019 at 7:32 am PDT | by Susan Hornik
African gay-cation?

Famous colorful huts of Muizenberg beach near Cape Town in South Africa (Photo via Bigstock)

With LGBTQ travel generating more than $100 billion each year in the United States, many tourist companies in Africa are eager for travelers with valid passports to visit their beautiful continent.

During a business talk at Africa’s Travel Indaba conference, which brought together numerous VIPs in the travel industry, Justin Barnette, who heads up head of marketing and communications for South Africa Tourism’s USA and Canada Hub, pointed out that South African people warmly accept LGBTQ travelers. 

“As the first country in the world to include a sexual orientation protection clause in our Constitution to ensure the rights of all people, and the fifth country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage, South Africans can take immense pride that our LGBTQ citizens are full and equal members of our society,” he said.

Barnette is excited about the increase in LGBT travelers throughout the continent.

“Our remarkable variety of tourism offerings from world-class safari, to adrenaline-pumping adventure, along with inspiring explorations of culture, make South Africa uniquely suited to market our destination to LGBTQ travelers.”

During his presentation at the panel, Barnette described Honorable Minister of Tourism Derek Hanekom as an “especially vocal champion” of LGBTQ rights, quoting his keynote address at the 2016 International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association’s annual global convention held in Cape Town.

“What I can say without any shadow of a doubt is that, as a country, we need you and want you here,” Hanekom said during his speech. “Not because of who we are, but because of who you are … We want you here to be a light to the millions of LGBT people in our country, so that wherever they are, they might know that they are not alone, that they are quite normal and that they should live their lives unafraid. For that is the kind of country we are trying to build.”  

Decades ago, travel was an important escape from the oppression many queer people felt at home. 

“Today travel is part of our cultural identity and this represents a huge opportunity to operators in the tourism industry,” said panelist Thomas Roth, founder of Community Marketing & Insights.

“The LGBTQ community’s travel patterns are nearly double that of the average population and they are very destination loyal,” he said. However, to tap into this market, tour operators need to acknowledge this market in their marketing material.

 “Use the correct terminology on your marketing material and ensure this is followed through by your tour operators. For example, use the term marriage equality not gay marriage. Make sure your website includes the LGBTQ community.”

Local tour operators

While there are very few LGBT-specific companies in South Africa, The Travel & Event Company’s Michael Gladwin’s is working on become the leading LGBT travel supplier in the country.

“Our LGBT initiative, AfriGay, is a unique concept in South Africa, offering travel products and events specific to the LGBT market, both locally and abroad. We are members of the IGLTA (International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association), so we have access to a wonderful global network who support the community and provide us with valuable information and insight into destinations and the challenges faced as LGBT travelers.”

A huge part of Gladwin’s role is to ensure his customers have a safe experience as they travel. 

“I recently returned from Africa’s Mauritius where I facilitated a lesbian wedding. It was a wonderful experience because of the work we had done in the months prior to educate, train, inform the resort (their staff, etc.), so that the experience for the brides and their guests was welcoming and wonderful. It was a huge success.”

Gladwin is launching two trips: an inbound All Gay tour of South Africa, and the first of its kind ever on African soil: an all-gay, five-day vacation in Mauritius.

Lipian Bongani Mtandabari, a Zimbabwean gay tourist operator, has been a tireless advocate of LGBT travelers since he started his own tourism company at age 17. 

“Our greatest fear is getting service from an tour operator who is homophobic or staying in a property that will impose their beliefs on same-sex travelers on me,” he said. “In our African community, we still find and experience a belief based on the dogmas imposed by religion, and this makes traveling to be very difficult as an LGBT traveler.”

Nevertheless, Mtandabari is working hard to educate. 

“In fostering human rights and promoting equality through travel, we are providing diversity and inclusion training, workshops and programs for travel professionals and tourism facilities across Zimbabwe, Botswana and South Africa. We take pride in this program, as it ensures that we profile local and regional destinations that are LGBT-inclusive.”

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