HOSPITALITY HUMANITY: How the Travel Industry, and the LGBT Folks within It, Stepped Up in the Wake of Recent Natural Disasters

By Guerrero, Desiree | The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine), February-March 2018 | Go to article overview

HOSPITALITY HUMANITY: How the Travel Industry, and the LGBT Folks within It, Stepped Up in the Wake of Recent Natural Disasters


Guerrero, Desiree, The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)


Certainly 2017 proved to be one of the world's worst in terms of natural disasters--particularly those hitting top travel A destinations--from the fires that roared through California (beginning with wine country all the way to San Diego) to the multiple earthquakes that rocked Mexico, and the numerous hurricanes that devastated portions of Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico, and the Caribbean. The destruction and loss was heartbreaking. In some areas, many of the people impacted most--due to both chronic inequity and discriminatory relief efforts--were LGBT.

With plentiful resources, and a self-serving interest in the recovery of these destinations, what role should the travel industry play in helping locals, and specifically local LGBT communities, through these types of crises? And what role should those of us who've traveled to these places play?

"When it comes to giving, it is a fact that people who are closer to an issue generally give more to that issue," says Charlie Rounds, the gay executive director of Alturi (Alturi.org), a global nonprofit focused on improving the lives of LGBT people around the world. "People who have pets give to animal shelters, people who have family members with cancer give to cancer organizations. So, when it comes to those of us who are fortunate enough to travel, we have to hope that we will give to those who welcomed us into their countries."

In the wake of these disasters, many travel and hospitality companies didn't hesitate to come to the aid of those in need, providing food, water, fuel, evacuation transportation, and temporary shelter. Alturi teamed up with gay travel companies, Atlantis Events and RSVP Vacations, to raise money and support LGBT island communities through charities already serving local queer and trans residents, Centro Comunitario LGBTT de Puerto Rico and Caribbean Vulnerable Communities.

Regardless of whether a disaster is natural or political, Rounds feels both travelers and the hospitality industry that profits from them have a responsibility to help people in crisis around the world--and not to forget LGBT people who are facing persecution and violence. "Right now, people in the Caribbean are suffering greatly from recent hurricanes. Egyptians are being arrested and jailed and need our help [too], LGBT people in Kenya and Uganda are fighting every day to have better lives. As travelers, I have to hope that we will give generously to the LGBT communities of countries that we have visited."

Rounds walks his talk. For example, he helped establish a revolutionary hospitality training program for LGBT youth in the Dominican Republic--a country less than tolerant. "Three years ago, Alturi brought together key stakeholders to try and understand how the travel industry could help the Caribbean LGBTQ community, and ... how [they] could assist the industry in improving the travel experience for LGBTQ travelers."

In partnership with Marriott International, Alturi ended up creating a one-week training program for LGBT youth to get hands-on experience and gain the skills they need "to become future leaders in the Dominican hospitality industry."

Rounds says participants "saw firsthand that their sexual orientation or gender identity would not be a barrier to working for the world's largest hospitality company."

David Nelson, a gay senior portfolio analyst at Royal Caribbean Cruises, echoes Rounds's thoughts on the travel industry paying it forward: "The secret success of any business is to ensure at difficult times people are considered first, before the bottom line. …

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