For the third year in a row, Gifted Travel Network (GTN) attended PROUD Experiences, an LGBTQ+ focused luxury travel show held each year during Pride month. For one of our advisors, Felicia Daniele this industry event held special meaning for a few different reasons. This was her first time attending an industry event since joining our Travel MBA program this past January and starting her business, Villagro Travel Design. Beyond that, Felicia herself is a member of the LGBTQ+ community, and one of her specialties is creating itineraries tailored to LGBTQ+ travelers.

After returning from PROUD Experiences, Felicia shared with us some of her key takeaways from the show from her unique perspective.  

What were 2-3 of your biggest highlights from this show?

There were far too many highlights to count! If I had to choose a few, however, I would select the following:

The first masterclass, titled “Foundational Concepts for LGBTQIA+ Travel,” went over some eye-opening demographics about this group of travelers, most notably, that nearly 30% of Gen Z identify as LGBTQ+, 80% of LGBTQ+ travelers own a passport (compared to 43% overall), and the annual domestic spend on travel from this population amounts to $100B. They also travel more frequently and are extremely brand loyal. Leaning into the support and elevation of LGBTQ+ travelers everywhere is not just common sense; according to these statistics, it’s excellent business sense!

I was so excited by the dozens upon dozens of productive meetings I had with partners and travel professionals throughout the event. There were partners and even destinations that I hadn’t thought about working with before or sending LGBTQ+ clients to that, after these meetings, improved and changed my views. There is really nothing like in-person interactions to inspire productivity and forge new relationships.

Were there any partners you had especially good meetings with and want to work with in the future? What was it that impressed you about them?

As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I can tell a lot about a company and how they prioritize working with travelers such as myself based on how they answered my questions during our meetings. I would ask questions like, “How does [insert a partner company name] ensure LGBTQ+ travelers feel welcomed when they visit your property/work with your team/etc?” or “What initiatives are you undertaking to ensure your product experience is more inclusive for LGBTQ+ travelers?” We’re at a queer-focused travel conference after all.

The partners that would respond with answers like, “We treat everyone the same,” or “Everyone is welcomed here,” or something to that effect, while not ill-intentioned, did not actively signal that they were proactively dedicated to improving upon my travel experience as a lesbian woman. It’s not a bad thing necessarily, but what it does show me is that we still have a long way to go in the travel industry to make everyone feel more included and to educate our hotelier partners on best practices

The fact of the matter is this: we should be thinking about how we treat LGBTQ+ travelers differently than the classic cis, heteronormative customer. We have a different lived experience than them. Those differences should be noted so they can be celebrated and so that we can have as wonderful an experience when we travel as our cis, heteronormative counterparts.

That said, I was impressed by Carla Delié, who represented the Wittmore Hotel in Barcelona, Spain. The Wittmore is a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World and is a beautiful, hidden gem nestled in the gothic neighborhood in Barcelona. It is one of the few, openly LGBTQ+-friendly hotels in Barcelona – this was a big shock for me, considering how welcoming and progressive Spain has always been as a country! Excitedly, Carla had reported that nearly 80% of their arrivals are LGTBQ+ travelers and usually celebrating something special, either a birthday, an anniversary, or similar.

I was most impressed by Belmond of all the partners at the show. I met with Parker Smith, their Account Director for LGBTQ+ and Entertainment, North America. Parker and I had an incredible conversation about his role in Belmond. Parker was hired specifically to help grow Belmond’s engagement with the LGBTQ+ traveling community and could easily and excitedly, speak to their initiatives to help queer travelers everywhere have positive, welcoming, and inclusive experiences with their brand. I left our conversation buzzing with excitement for all his work and how Belmond, as a company, prioritizes this community by having dedicated programs in place to create change—Parker’s role included. I look forward to collaborating with Parker and the Belmond team in the future!    

Were there any destinations that you didn’t realize were as LGBTQ+ friendly as they are, or that generally impressed you with their commitment to creating a safe space for this community?

I was surprised that Los Cabos, Mexico was LGBTQ+ friendly. I have not yet visited myself, but it wasn’t ever a destination that I thought of for myself or when needing to think about where to send LGBTQ+ clients. I was impressed to learn they were one of the first destinations to get certified with Queer Destinations, a leading international LGBTQ+ company that empowers other companies to adapt their products and ensure a safe environment for all customers, regardless of their sexual orientation and gender identity. Thanks to PROUD Experiences, I am excited to say that I look forward to one day visiting and enjoying Los Cabos!

After attending PROUD, what advice would you give to a new advisor getting ready to attend their first big industry event to help them maximize the experience?

If you think you’ve prepared enough business cards, think again! You will run out several times during the day. Come with extra cards, and, if all else fails, create a digital business card to keep in your digital wallet on your mobile device with a QR code linking to your contact info so you can still exchange details with people you meet with.

Secondly, you will meet dozens of people, and conversations can blend after the full day of partner meetings has gone by. Have a good note-taking and organizational system in place to remember those conversations and effectively follow up in the future.  

Lastly, don’t be afraid to tell partners you’re new to the profession. Everyone started somewhere. Own where you are in your journey and stand in your power. Your confidence will color your conversations and lead to you enjoying the event and having an even more productive experience than you thought possible.

How did attending this show with a group of other GTN advisors impact the overall experience?

This was one of my favorite parts of the event! I always love meeting and learning more about the other fabulous members of GTN. Everyone was so welcoming, open, and supportive of each other throughout the event. We were actively making a point to reconnect with each other during the day and touch base ahead of the evening’s activities so that we could spend time with one another. I feel like I left PROUD with new friends and amazing connections, thanks to GTN!

Do you have any other takeaways you want to share about this show?

We still have a long way to go to create an inclusive and welcoming world for LGBTQ+ travelers, and just queer people, in general, everywhere. But, if there’s one industry I wholeheartedly believe has the power to impact more change, more quickly, than any other industry, it’s travel.

Traveling exposes us to diverse cultures, lifestyles, and people, including others within the LGBTQ+ community. This exposure challenges stereotypes and preconceived notions, fostering a more inclusive and accepting attitude. Thanks to so much of the work already being done for LGBTQ+ travelers by our partners worldwide, we can witness LGBTQ+ acceptance firsthand when we travel. Visiting countries or cities known for their acceptance immediately exposes us to how inclusive societies function, which we can then take back to our homes and inspire more change, even in our everyday conversations.

It was thrilling to witness and be inspired by the hundreds of travel professionals gathered over PROUD Experiences to help advance LGBTQ+ travel everywhere, together. With over 60 countries still criminalizing homosexuality to some degree, I’m confident we are moving towards a better and more inclusive world as laws progress, and I look forward to one day welcoming even the least suspecting of destinations at experiences like these, so that LGBTQ+ travelers everywhere can feel safe and have great experiences wherever they decide to go in the world.