Through a recent project in Colombia, I’ve helped to prepare tourism suppliers inside and outside the country to develop their products and approach the LGBTQ+ market with confidence.
Just ten years ago, Colombia’s tourism campaigns had a catchy but intriguing message: “Colombia: The only risk is wanting to stay”. This was, of course a nod to the country’s turbulent history, but also its many compelling attractions. Ten years on the message is a confident one: “Feel the rhythm”, with kindness, joy, diversity and music taking front and centre stage.
Diverse in every sense
The word ‘diversity’ is especially poignant. First-time visitors to Colombia quickly discover that the country is incredibly diverse in so many ways; in terms of landscapes, foods, music, wildlife and most of all, the socio-ethnic backgrounds of its people. This was certainly the case for me. In recent years Colombia has also taken huge steps ahead in recognising another type of diversity among its people, that of sexual orientation and gender identity.
In fact, Colombia is the only country in Latin America to offer legal protections to LGBTQ+ people in five different ways: in terms of same-sex marriage, adoption, ID name-changes for trans people, non-discrimination and promotion of equal rights through public services.
Aware that these legal guarantees could offer the country a competitive advantage in the global LGBTQ+ tourism market, ProColombia – the country’s export agency and national tourism board – were keen to help tourism suppliers inside and outside the country understand the opportunities it could offer. Colombia had already developed a presence in the LGBTQ+ market, exhibiting at various editions of the IGLTA Convention, and winning the award for Best Emerging LGBTQ Destination at FITUR in 2017.
Taking a new approach
ProColombia was serious about its commitment to developing its competitive position and understood that this can’t be done through promotion alone; first it’s necessary to have a clear picture of the current level of understanding and product development before approaching the market. It would also be necessary, through research to understand which source markets would be most receptive to the country’s promotion efforts later on, and ensure that the country’s tourism suppliers were well prepared. (This approach to destination development was one I explained in more detail at the IGLTA Convention in New York and will expand on more soon, in this blog).
In recent years I’ve researched extensively and helped to push the debate forward on how destinations should engage with their LGBTQ residents and visitors (you can find out more about my work and download reports for free here). I’ve also worked on mainstream tourism research, development and destination master plans. As a result, I saw the opportunity to help Colombia to grow this market sustainably, in a way that matched its tourism product and identity perfectly. In July 2018 we began our collaboration.
What did I do?
- Research on key markets: I designed a comprehensive survey that was used to collect insights on LGBTQ+ travellers in five source markets for Colombia: Brazil, Canada, Mexico, Spain and the US
- Destination audit: I visited four destinations that were identified for promotion in the LGBTQ+ market, evaluated products and services and interviewed tourism suppliers individually, and through focus groups
- Training and education: In each destination I gave workshops in Spanish that covered market awareness, consumer trends, customer service, product development and marketing advice, to over 200 tourism suppliers
- Strategy report: Based on my research and analysis I provided an internal report to ProColombia that set the framework for future LGBTQ+ market development
- LGBTQ+ trade manual for tourism professionals: Based on my destination audit and global benchmarks, I wrote a Trade Manual, the ‘Guía Profesional para el Desarollo del Turismo LGBT en Colombia’, which has been distributed to tourism suppliers across Colombia and within its key markets. I was pleased to present the Trade Guide to ProColombia, CCLGBTCo and the recent IGLTA Annual Global Convention in New York
Through two inspiring (and action-packed) visits to Colombia, I could see for myself that indeed, the only risk was wanting to stay (oh, and in putting on weight from so much amazing food and drink). During two visits to Colombia I met over 200 tourism suppliers across the country and could see for myself how enthusiastic they are about welcoming LGBTQ visitors to see the country for themselves. I urge you to do the same.
Special thanks go to:
- The staff at ProColombia offices in Bogotá, Cartagena, Medellín and Pereira for their support throughout my visit
- Santiago Aguirre at ProColombia who proved instrumental in setting this project up and helping it to run so well, from start to finish, and:
- Felipe Cardenas, President of Colombia’s LGBT Chamber of Commerce and John Tanzella, President of the International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association (IGLTA) for lending their support to the project and Trade Manual
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