One year after same-sex marriage was legalized in Bermuda,
it was abolished earlier this month, a move that travel agents predicted would
chill tourism to the island from both non-LGBT travelers and members of the
The repeal of same-sex marriage comes on the heels of two
record years of tourism for Bermuda, which saw 182,439 arrivals in 2017, up 11%
year over year, and $320 million in leisure spending, up 20% year over year,
according to the Bermuda Tourism Authority (BTA). 2017 was a particularly good year
because the island hosted the 35th America's Cup.
Historically, Bermuda has not been an LGBT-friendly
destination, said Mark Steward, owner of the Virtuoso agency Jet Set Tourism in
Raleigh, N.C. But when same-sex marriage was legalized, there was some interest
from the LGBT community in the Northeast because it offered an easy-to-get-to
However, with the repeal, interest in Bermuda from LGBT
travelers will likely dry up, he said. In fact, Steward said there would likely
be a chilling effect on the entire demographic Bermuda is currently targeting:
people under age 45.
"Those under-45-year-old people are not going to be
excited about coming to an island that does not welcome all their friends,"
Jerry Desmarais, an LGBT specialist at the Dream Vacations
franchise in Wilton Manors, Fla., also predicted an impact on tourism.
"Personally, I wouldn't send anybody there," he
John Tanzella, president and CEO of the International Gay
and Lesbian Travel Association (IGLTA), called the repeal "surprising"
"I don't think the battle is over," Tanzella said.
"I do think, moving forward, this will change over time because the world
is changing. If they want to continue to flourish in tourism, they need to be
open and welcoming to all walks of tourism."
Bermuda's tourism authority has been supportive of LGBT
travelers, and last year it became a member of the IGLTA, Tanzella said. He
also pointed out that Bermuda has protections in place for people on the basis
of sexual orientation, and its laws are more gay-friendly than those of some
"It's a step backward, but we're in no position -- or
have any interest -- to call for a boycott of Bermuda," Tanzella said. "There
certainly are a lot of LGBT citizens there and people who work there, and
boycotts never help solve problems. Our position is always more to try and work
with the tourism office and the government to change policies."
Kevin Dallas, the CEO of the island's tourism authority,
said his organization has rebranded and repositioned Bermuda in front of a
younger set of travelers over the past three years. Those travelers are more
diverse: increasingly nonwhite and not heterosexual.
He acknowledged that Bermuda is facing a spate of negative
headlines surrounding the abolishment of same-sex marriage. While it's too soon
to tell what impact that might have on tourism, Dallas said the authority has
received some emails from travelers saying they are going elsewhere in light of
the news. The destinations they name, though, tend to not be gay-friendly, he
"Travel can have a transformative effect," Dallas
said. "The notion of a boycott, of cutting yourself off from a community
and a society that is struggling with this issue, just strikes me as completely
counterintuitive to what we're trying to achieve.
"I think from the U.S. same-sex marriage debate, we
know that nothing goes further in changing people's minds about LGBT people
than engagement with them -- knowing them, seeing that they are normal, happy,
healthy families like any other, wins hearts and minds."