After close to four decades, one of the world's largest LGBTQ+ travel conferences will return to the Caribbean -- and specifically to Puerto Rico. The International LGBTQ+ Travel Association (IGLTA) will hold its 40th anniversary Global Conventionat the Puerto Rico Convention Center Oct. 4 to 7.
Puerto Rico hosted the group's second annual conference in 1985. And it's not just the beaches or the food that's bringing the IGLTA back this year: the island has been working hard to attract LGBTQ+ travelers.
According to data from Discover Puerto Rico, just 19% of LGBTQ+ travelers identified Puerto Rico as an LGBTQ+ -friendly destination in 2019. But that number increased to 41% a year later. Discover Puerto Rico attributes that increase, in part, to working alongside HospitableMe, an organization that promotes inclusivity in the hospitality industry.
That's something Puerto Rico has been involved in for the past couple of years. In addition to the collaboration with HospitableMe, Discover Puerto Rico launched its Live Out initiative in 2021 to raise awareness of the island being a welcoming destination for LGBTQ+ travelers. It also launched a Pathway to Employment initiative that addresses LGBTQ+ challenges and solutions in the workforce. The tourism development group does its part by using LGBTQ+ staff, offering a wealth of resources, recommendations and visitor guides on its website to cater to LGBTQ+ guests.
It's strides like those that the IGLTA would like to see become more normalized across the region.
"Holding our signature educational and networking event in Puerto Rico gives us the opportunity to make a strong, positive impact not only on their local LGBTQ+ communities but also on LGBTQ+ tourism throughout the Caribbean," said IGLTA president and CEO John Tanzella.
Could more be done? The short answer, Tanzella said, is yes. But there has been some progress, at least.
"There certainly have been positive shifts in the Caribbean in recent years, notably Barbados, Antigua & Barbuda and St. Kitts & Nevis decriminalizing same-sex relations in 2022," Tanzella said. "While things are moving forward in terms of removing these archaic laws, there is still a noticeable lack of protections throughout the islands, particularly for those people who are transgender or nonbinary."
Some of the more progressive LGBTQ+ laws in the Caribbean are linked to islands like Curacao, with ties to the Netherlands, which Tanzella cites as scoring very high for LGBTQ+ rights worldwide.
"Not only do we want to make sure all travelers feel welcome, but we also see it as a tremendous privilege to show our industry partners how inclusivity and values-based efforts like [those promoted by] IGLTA can drive prosperity for the entire region," said Leah Chandler, Discover Puerto Rico's chief marketing officer.
According to Chandler, Puerto Rico is one of seven islands in the Caribbean where same-sex marriage is legal and the only one with adoption rights awarded to same-sex couples.
A topic to be discussed at this year's conference is how LGBTQ+ tourism can be a driver for inclusivity changes in the Caribbean.
Said Chandler, "The island continues to welcome LGBTQ+ travelers with open arms and, as the island's destination-marketing organization, Discover Puerto Rico is always seeking areas of improvement to help continue making the Island a safe and welcoming place for all."
IGLTA's global network includes 12,000 LGBTQ+ accommodations, destinations, service providers, travel agents, tour operators, events and travel media in 80 countries.
Visit the IGLTA site to learn more about to event or to register to attend.