A contingent of local tourism officials traveled to San Juan, Puerto Rico last week to bring Philly’s vast experiences with the LGBT tourism market to an international audience.
At a conference of the International Council on Hotel, Restaurant and Institutional Education, the group presented a discussion on the unique partnership between Temple University and the Philadelphia Gay Tourism Caucus, who together have been working to make the Philadelphia hospitality industry fully LGBT-welcoming.
Dr. Debra Blair, assistant professor of Temple University’s School of Tourism & Hospitality Management, and a consultant to the PGTC, submitted a proposal for the ICHRIE presentation because she said the successful collaboration between the two agencies and their growing list of accomplishments were “significant enough for us to share with industry and educators.”
Blair said she believes other ICHRIE panels have touched on LGBT topics, although the number has been minimal.
The session, entitled “Capacity-Building through Gay-Sensitivity Training,” included remarks from Blair, PGTC president Tami Sortman, Salvador Mendoza, vice president of diversity and inclusion at Hyatt Hotel Corporation and Marriott International Inc, and Greg DeShields, senior director of community relations for Temple’s School of Tourism and Hospitality Management.
Temple and the PGTC first launched their joint gay-sensitivity training programs in late 2007 in an effort to educate local hospitality workers about the unique needs of LGBT tourists.
Several years earlier, the city had embarked on its “Get Your History Straight and Your Nightlife Gay Campaign,” which has been cited as significantly increasing Philadelphia’s distinction as an LGBT-welcoming destination. Those working on the campaign, however, realized that while the city may be prepared to open its arms to LGBT guests, it was also important to make sure that the people who would be working with LGBT tourists on an individual basis were also well equipped to provide top-notch customer service.
The training sessions involve actors who portray LGBT individuals and depict the myriad obstacles and uncomfortable situations they could face when traveling and allow participants to brainstorm solutions. The sessions have been conducted at eight sites so far, including hotels, area attractions and visitor centers.
The panel at the ICHRIE conference discussed the innovation of the effort and the need for such an initiative, as well as talked about the success of uniting experts from both the academic and tourism realms.
“I think it has been extremely important,” Blair said of the partnership between Temple and PGTC. “From an academic perspective, the collaboration facilitates an opportunity to validate theories, conduct research that will add to the body of knowledge [about] LGBT-related diversity training and bring practical application of service strategies to our students. From the perspective of the caucus, it has created access to resources of an academic institution such as interns, faculty expertise in training and education and assistance with funding resources.”
Blair said the ICHRIE representatives who accepted the panel proposal were supportive, and she hopes the discussion allowed the conferencegoers guests who attended to recognize the need for LGBT outreach and work to develop their own initiatives to attract this market.
“This is a growing area of research, and successful collaborations need to be showcased,” she said.