The latest Hotelintel.co Round Table event at The Siam Hotel on Monday March 6th 2017 brought together a diverse panel and audience to explore the opportunities offered by the world’s 500 million LGBT potential travelers.
The exclusive discussion was hosted by Hotelintel.co CEO, Wimintra Jangnin, supported by The Siam’s GM Nick Downing, with C9 Hotelworks’ Bill Barnett performing the interrogation duties. The success of this kind of event lies in allowing participants from all sides of the debate to share their perspectives, and on this occasion the contributors were Supa-arpha (Mandy) Itthikaiwan, Marketing Communications Manager at Well Hotels & Resorts; Ken Kreangsak Leing, founder of G-Spot Entertainment, and Linh Le, Managing Director of Asia DMC.
If there’s one thing to be agreed upon, it is that Thailand is a great destination which attracts large numbers of visitors, many of whom are from the LGBT community. While Thailand’s attractions appeal broadly to everyone, one major strength is the country’s tolerance. As Ken explained, he experiences no problems when walking hand-in-hand with his boyfriend in Bangkok, whereas the same behavior in other countries has resulted in physical abuse. This level of acceptance makes Thailand a safe and welcoming place for LGBT visitors, and as hoteliers will confirm, the destination is chosen long before the hotel.
In addition to the temples and beaches, Thailand also has attractions which specifically target LGBT visitors. The renowned gCircuit parties which Ken organizes attract thousands of revelers from across Asia, while hotels themselves have also sought to attract a local or expat LGBT clientele through events such as the Boys Love Bubbles nights held at the W Bangkok on Silom.
Of course, Silom cannot be mentioned without the question of sex tourism rearing its head, but hoteliers in the area were quick to point out that both that this is a personal matter for their guests, and that the issue shouldn’t be considered any differently to ‘normal’ sex tourism: that is, it happens in certain areas, it’s nothing new, and guests’ privacy must be respected. Silom’s reputation as the party hotspot for the LGBT community definitely gives nearby hotels an advantage in this sector, with Ken admitting that when he has staged events in other parts of the city, his clients have typically gravitated towards Silom afterwards.
A second point of perception is that LGBT travelers tend to be a little wealthier, better educated and more sophisticated than the average, and often lead the way to new destinations. Anecdotal evidence suggests they may also be more outgoing and are eager users of social media. All of this adds up to an intriguing set of circumstances for marketers.
Few hoteliers have stated that they actively direct their marketing towards LGBT guests. Instead, it seems that a well-designed and stylish hotel in an attractive destination will quickly gain the appreciation of the LGBT travelers it welcomes. In return, a few photos posted by guests on social media can quickly generate interest in properties that look the part. There is very little direct ‘advertising’ involved, so quality content is the key to stimulating interest. Linh noted that LGBT travel agents still exist, but for hotels, being gay-friendly today is simply a part of being guest-friendly – it is hospitality.
Nevertheless, the idea of gay-friendly hotels persists. Mandy introduced thegaypassport.com to the discussion, explaining that the site provides travel, hotel and event info specifically for LGBT travelers – and here the term used most widely with hotel descriptions is ‘gay popular’. Of course, Bangkok is not necessarily a city where negative attitudes towards LGBT guests would be encountered, especially among the younger generations. However, this may not be the case in other parts of the world, and for this reason Accor has created a diversity committee to establish standards for the fair treatment of all kinds of minority groups. While this is initially an internal matter for human resources, in some destinations it may represent the first step in changing staff attitudes as Accor aims to set high standards through its own corporate culture. Although owners have perhaps a greater influence on a hotel’s culture than management companies, this is another positive step.
There is, however, a certain difference between the LGBT segment and other minority groups such as, for example, disabled travelers. The question is one of whether people should be treated differently – or as Ken put it, “we’re not normal – we’re special.” Disabled travelers may need accessible rooms, and potentially much more, but do LGBT travelers require anything different? If anything, the consensus was that the best kind of treatment is absolutely normal treatment, although feedback from hoteliers listed as ‘gay popular’ certainly suggests that cute male staff and nice design can make a difference. It may be wise to extend diversity in terms of hotel staffing to get the best results. While in the past the challenge may have been one of gaining acceptance for LGBT hotel workers, they may now be considered powerful assets. Nick added that this was true of many of the butlers at The Siam, and the people skills of many LGBT staff can certainly help them to make a great impression.
It can be concluded that Thailand is probably at the forefront of LGBT travel in the region thanks to the open nature of the Thai people, the work of designers and hoteliers who extend the highest hospitality standards to every one of their guests, and to organizers like Ken whose contribution to LGBT entertainment in Thailand cannot be underestimated.
In fact, as increasing numbers of non-LGBT partygoers attend Ken’s events, his attitude to diversity is one we can all embrace: “So many straight people,” he said, “but it’s nothing I can’t handle.”