Meg Ten Eyck is a white, cisgender, queer woman based in the USA. She is an award-winning LGBTQ travel content creator, CEO of EveryQueer, and has been a professional LGBTQ+ activist and subject matter expert since 2005. She has also been a featured speaker at LGBTQ+ conferences around the world, has visited over 60 countries, and recently published her first book, Slacktivist: Using Digital Media to Create Change.
Celebrating Pride and the LGBTQ+ community with rainbow-hued social media posts and brightly coloured everything has become an annual event in many parts of the world. For the LGBTQ+ community, Pride is equal parts celebration, political action and family reunion. It’s also an opportunity for brands and businesses to showcase their values of inclusion. In the past, I’ve chosen to mark the occasion by downing vodka sodas and dancing with my best friends in celebration one night, while crying into the arms of colleagues who’ve lost friends and family due to anti-LGBTQ+ violence the next morning. Both experiences are valid and both are integral parts of what Pride means to our community. Pride has never been just a parade and never will be.
The events of Pride will look a bit different again this year due to COVID-19, but the need for togetherness is still very real. Whether we’re attending virtual events or participating in person, continuous messages and actions that support diversity and equality for the LGBTQ+ community are especially important and will have a widespread impact year-round. That’s why I’m shining a spotlight on LGBTQ+-friendly hotel brands that are objectively supporting the LGBTQ+ community internally as employees, as well as externally as travellers.
What is an LGBTQ+ friendly hotel?
Many LGBTQ+ travellers are looking for hotels that signal inclusion by publicly endorsing our community through messages of support, especially on important days and political milestones like Pride, Transgender Day of Visibility and World AIDS Day. But we also expect accurate representations of the community that showcase our diversity and nuance. The LGBTQ+ community needs authenticity and accuracy in our depictions. Long gone are the days when we would celebrate stereotypical tropes because we were starved for representation.
Darren Burn, who runs LGBTQ+ travel brand OutOfOffice.com, said, “In the five years I’ve been working in this sphere, I have seen a marked increase in the number of hotels that want to attract the LGBTQ+ community. The impact this then has on equality policies is positive and means that hotels can now genuinely say that diversity is good for business. I, for one, am hopeful that diversity and training for employees and brands are here to stay – not just because there is a commercially sound reason for doing so, but because it’s the right thing to do as well.”
Supporting the LGBTQ+ community as a business goes beyond marketing and public relations. Uwern Jong, Editor of OutThere Magazine, notes that many independently owned properties go above and beyond but don’t receive as much recognition, because they lack the public relations reach of bigger brands.
“The staff at 137 Pillars Hotels and Resorts in Thailand have also gone the extra mile,” Uwern said. “I work with them to promote the brand to LGBTQ+ travellers, but I was also recently involved in the development of their 360-degree LGBTQ+ inclusivity strategy, driven by individual team members across all areas of the company. Sometimes when I do such projects, I feel like I’m preaching to a group of people who are obliged to be there, but it was so heartwarming to see how involved and enthused the entire team was in the subject, delivering ideas that were personal, unique and trailblazing.”
This list of LGBTQ+-friendly hotels was developed based on several interviews with leading experts across borders, identities and job titles to ensure that multiple voices are heard. Additionally, I sought to include brands that are making regular financial contributions to LGBTQ+ nonprofits and supporting independent media outlets and creatives within the LGBTQ+ community with advertising spends – LGBTQ+ travellers are also LGBTQ+ employees. We look for brands that provide internal diversity and inclusion training opportunities that are inclusive of LGBTQ+ people, as well as brands that honour LGBTQ+ families and the needs of our transgender siblings in their policies and benefits programmes.
Top LGBTQ+ friendly hotel brands
Marriott has a long history as an industry thought leader in LGBTQ+ diversity and inclusion. It was the first hotel group to offer same-sex domestic partner benefits back in 1999, which predates the majority of marriage equality initiatives worldwide. For more than a decade, it has been included among The Best Places to Work on HRC’s Corporate Equality Index, with a 100% score since 2014. Marriott has long had an enumerated nondiscrimination policy and health care coverage that is inclusive of transgender medical needs.
In 2014, Marriott launched an advertising campaign supporting the LGBTQ+ community called #LoveTravels. Since the launch, Marriott has consistently invested financially in LGBTQ+ creatives. YouTube sensation Amber Whittington of Amber’s Closet has worked with Marriott since 2017.
I caught up with Amber during a launch event for Marriott’s World Pride New York City campaign in 2019. “I never felt tokenised by Marriott at all as I have with other brands,” she shared. “I felt like they always invite queer creators that represent different aspects of the community to give as much representation as possible. And it was always clear that the people they chose to represent Marriott are activists that truly care about the community and not just another influencer. They walk their talk and do things for the LGBTQ+ community all year long, not just during Pride month. They take care of us and make us feel respected for what we do, and they give us the freedom to post what we want our audience to see. I get excited to work with them every single time.”
Marriott’s must-visit LGBTQ+ friendly hotel
Delta Hotel by Marriott in Toronto, Canada, is an excellent option under the Marriott umbrella. In 2018, this property hosted a group of LGBTQ+ media people during the International LGBTQ+ Travel Association’s (IGLTA) annual conference. Delta Hotel by Marriott continually supports LGBTQ+ creatives and even hires writers to create dedicated LGBTQ+ content for its site.
Hilton is an LGBTQ+ friendly hotel that goes the extra mile to provide training and professional development opportunities for employees who are not as familiar with LGBTQ+ culture. This brand also provides excellent benefits for its LGBTQ+ team members.
In 2017, Hilton began offering employees an Adoption Assistance Benefit of up to $10,000 (£7,226.56) per adopted child to help offset qualified expenses. While the program benefits all employees, it disproportionately supports LGBTQ+ team members.
Rick Nelson is a US-based Hilton employee who was featured in an episode of TED’s WorkLife with Adam Grant. Rick spoke about his husband and their journey to adoption with Hilton’s Parental Assistance Program. Just 10 days after completing their adoption application, Rick received a call at work that their son Ben was ready to be picked up. Rick’s boss told him not to worry about the time off and to enjoy being a new father. Hilton made this easy for Rick through its equitable parental leave policy. During the interview, Rick acknowledged Hilton’s role in helping him become the father he always wanted to be.
Hilton’s must-visit LGBTQ+ friendly hotel
Devin-Norelle (pronouns ze and zim) is a black, nonbinary, transgender person who works in LGBTQ+ media. After checking into Hilton Westchester in Rye Brook, New York, ze had a pleasantly surprising experience with the staff. The general manager texted Devin-Norelle asking about zi’s stay to ensure ze was enjoying the Hilton experience. During the conversation, in an effort to be inclusive, the manager asked, “Do you prefer the staff use “Mr. or Ms. when they’re addressing you?” Ze recognized the effort the manager was making to be inclusive and explained that ze is nonbinary and uses neither Mr. nor Ms. The manager responded, “Would Mx be better for you?” Devin-Norelle was floored that the manager even knew of that title for nonbinary people and was impressed by the level of empathy and customer service the hotel displayed during zi’s stay.
Belmond is a pioneer in its support of LGBTQ+ travellers. The LVMH-owned luxury hotel chain was an early supporter of both LGBTQ+ travel and the LGBTQ+ destination wedding market. It uses LGBTQ+ specific messaging and offers packages for weddings and romantic vacations in destinations that are riskier for LGBTQ+ people.
Elio Lopez, the brand’s Account Director of LGBTQ+ Sales & Entertainment in North America, is himself a member of the LGBTQ+ community. He has spoken at length about the ways that Belmond has highlighted the needs of the LGBTQ+ community in its business practices.
“One of Belmond’s core values is Community, a value that has allowed us to evolve into a company where all are welcomed, included and celebrated,” Elio said. “This focus on celebrating the diversity of our guests has made us a leader in the LGBTQ+ travel community.”
Elio went on to describe Belmond’s LGBTQ+ advisory board, which is a panel of 12 travel agents, tour providers, media members and activists specialising in the LGBTQ+ travel industry. The board meets at travel industry conferences and events around the world and holds an annual meeting where they discuss the needs of the LGBTQ+ community and advise on how best to support the community through policy implementation, training and product development. For full transparency, I am a member of that advisory board.
Belmond has been a long-standing member of IGLTA and has offered financial support, mentorship and programmatic support to professionals in the LGBTQ+ travel industry for the last decade.
Belmond’s must-visit LGBTQ+ friendly hotel
“The property was absolutely stunning – our oceanfront view was everything you could ask for in a beach vacation,” she said. “As a gender-nonconforming queer person, I know I can make people nervous. It’s not intentional. I think people are just a bit more on edge because they don’t want to offend me. Hotel staff tends to either shy off from engaging with me because they don’t know how to address me or they go overboard and are too familiar. At Belmond Maroma, it was exactly the right balance between welcoming and friendly without making me feel like my gender was on display.”
MGM has gone above and beyond to put financial backing behind LGBTQ+ people and through lobbying efforts for LGBTQ+ affirming policy. This brand has long been a corporate partner of LGBTQ+ nonprofits that are globally recognised, like the Human Rights Campaign and the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network. But MGM has also contributed funding at great depth to smaller LGBTQ+ organisations, pride events and policy campaigns around the world.
A few notable contributions include their founding sponsorship of the Las Vegas chapter of the Human Rights Campaign in 2004, a $75,000 (£54,000) contribution to Marylanders for Marriage Equality in 2012, and a $300,000 (£21,500) donation to The Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Southern Nevada to support the construction and opening of its new building in 2013. MGM also encourages its individual hotels to contribute toward LGBTQ+ initiatives and has committed to spending at least 10% of its domestic biddable procurement with diverse suppliers – including women, the LGBTQ+ community, people of colour and people with disabilities – by 2025. So far, the program accounts for more than $3 billion (£2.2 billion) in contracts to businesses owned by members of marginalised communities.
MGM’s must-visit LGBTQ+ friendly hotel
Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in Atlantic City is an MGM-owned property that proudly supports the LGBTQ+ community through its OUT at Borgata program. Borgata is also a contributor to Garden State Equality through financial and in-kind donations that are specifically earmarked to a fund providing assistance to transgender people seeking legal support for name change documentation.
Red Carnation Hotels is a smaller hotel brand that is well known for its exceptional service and commitment to the LGBTQ+ community. It has achieved this excellence with a dedication to diversity in hiring and management.
When I spoke to Billy Kolber, the CEO of HospitableMe and a long-time travel writer, about Red Carnation’s commitment to our community, he emphasised that Red Carnation and its sister brands under The Travel Corporation have made diversity and inclusion a large part of their core ethos.
Billy said: “Something we’ve recently helped them with is the launch of Red Carnation IDEA: Inclusion, Diversity, Equality and Action. It’s a Business Resource Group dedicated to all aspects of diversity and building allyship among all of its employees. The ‘identity circles’ within the Carnation IDEA include expected identities, like LGBTQ+ and women, but also make space for less commonly acknowledged issues like lower-income employees and new parents. This focus on building and leveraging diversity, support and understanding within their staff enables Red Carnation to authentically welcome diverse travellers, and make sure that inclusion and diversity are considered in everything they do.”
Red Carnation’s must-visit LGBTQ+ friendly hotel
Red Carnation owns four of London’s top-rate hotels, but Rubens at the Palace is the ideal location for royal history buffs. Located directly across from Buckingham Palace, Rubens at the Palace offers a beautiful high tea service that is fit for any queen.
Of all the hotel brands in this piece, Accor was mentioned the most by industry professionals during interviews. Accor Hotels hasn’t been in the LGBTQ+ space as long as many of its competitors, but its work in the community demonstrates a unique perspective and commitment. In recent years, Accor has become a sponsor of the luxury travel conference Proud Experiences, which advances the conversation about LGBTQ+ travellers on the global stage.
When speaking with Kenny Porpora, the co-founder of HospitableMe, a company specialising in LGBTQ+ inclusive training for hospitality brands, he had high praise for Accor.
“Accor was in the first of the big five hotel brands to sign on as a partner to the Proud Certified training program,” Kenny said. “30 percent of LGBTQ+ travellers fear judgment when they check into a hotel, and many hotel employees are unsure how to provide services to populations they are less familiar with. Providing training eases that fear on both sides.”
Porpora went on to say: “Lots of hotels say they’re LGBTQ+-friendly – this training and certification make sure that they really are. It’s that kind of commitment that clearly distinguishes companies like Accor – making a difference for LGBTQ+ travellers, from those who are focused only on marketing to them.”
Uwern Jong, Editor of OutThere Magazine, is another well-respected professional in the world of LGBTQ+ travel who also had high praise for Accor.
“In my decade of leading OutThere Magazine, I’ve learned to discern between those who have taken the important step to actually be part of our community and those who just ‘court’ us for our spend. Accor Asia Pacific, the owner of brands from the illustrious Raffles to the contemporary-chic SO/ Resorts, has proven to me just how invested they are in the community. Beyond the marketing projects and events we work on together, I’ve been involved in internal Pride activities that involve the entire staff based in Southeast Asia, and they have clearly and openly demonstrated how inclusive they are in their dealings with team members.”
Accor’s must-visit LGBTQ+-friendly hotel
Mama Shelter London, which is an Accor property, sponsors London Queer Fashion Week and has worked with English transgender activist Max Slack, who said they had never felt more welcomed in a hotel. Staff immediately asked their pronouns, and Max was continuously made to feel included upon their stay.
Final thoughts on LGBTQ+ friendly hotels
Truly LGBTQ+ friendly hotel brands are honouring LGBTQ+ people both publicly and internally all year round, not just during Pride Month. They provide training and support for their employees through resource groups, inclusive benefits packages and internal policies. No matter where you’re travelling, one of these brands will have you sleeping soundly during your next adventure. Always be sure to do your homework and check government guidelines for responsible travel during COVID, as well as safety expectations for LGBTQ+ people, before setting off on your next adventure.
Where can I travel now?
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FAQs about LGBTQ+ friendly hotels
LGBTQ+ friendly means that a business is welcoming and affirming of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning people.
Determining LGBTQ+ acceptance in individual countries can be tough because not all governments are representative of their people. First, check government guidelines and travel advisories for the destination and research the policies of the country you intend to visit. Once you have an idea of what the regulations are, reach out to local people, businesses and nonprofits to better understand local social acceptance.
There is no perfect utopia for LGBTQ+ people, but many countries are making great strides toward inclusion and respect, like Canada, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Thailand, Taiwan and Argentina. This list is not exhaustive, as there are many welcoming countries for LGBTQ+ people. Even so, individuals across all identities should remain vigilant as they travel.
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