Jamie Biesiada
Jamie Biesiada

A recent webcast from AIG Travel highlighted the importance of safety for LGBTQ travelers, something agents should keep in mind.

"Not all travelers are created equal. Some are going to face new and different risks depending on their specific profiles and their specific destinations," said Brittany Lewis, security operations supervisor for AIG Travel.

Safety and security for LGBTQ travelers "presents unique challenges," she said. 

Currently, 72 countries criminalize same-sex relationships. In a number of others, Lewis said, identifying as LGBTQ might be legal, but the culture could be more conservative and hostile toward LGBTQ individuals. And even in some countries where identifying as LGBTQ is legal, sometimes laws can be nebulous and enforcement inconsistent.

"It's really important that LGBTQ travelers be cognizant of wherever they're traveling to, but we don't want to scare anyone away from traveling," Lewis said. 

Instead, she said, LGBTQ travelers should go into any destination informed about local laws and customs.

Lewis recommended the State Department as a solid resource for travelers. The department maintains a website dedicated to LGBTQ travelers, one of many pages dedicated to travelers with special considerations. (Students abroad, women, cruise ship passengers and journalists have their own pages, as well.) 

The State Department's country-specific pages also include information on individual nations' stances on LGBTQ rights.

Lewis also recommended ManAboutWorld's LGBTQ Guide to Travel Safety, which is sponsored by AIG Travel and free to download, as another resource. ManAboutWorld is a digital magazine for gay travelers run by Ed Salvato, who co-hosted AIG's webcast.

The most important thing for LGBTQ travelers is to research their destination, Lewis said. They should get a good overview for general security, cultural and legal concerns as well as the local LGBTQ community.

According to Salvato, marriage equality is the law of the land in around two dozen countries. But there are three times as many countries where same-sex relationships are criminalized, making it even more important that LGBTQ travelers educate themselves.

In some of those countries, Lewis said, LGBTQ travelers can be barred from entering the country and even detained if they are considered to be "promoting" LGBTQ activity, which could be construed as even having an LGBTQ publication on one's person.

Sometimes, she said, LGBTQ travelers should consider arrangements like reserving a room with two beds instead of one to be more discreet.

She also encouraged LGBTQ travelers to research everywhere they plan to visit, even down to the neighborhood, because acceptance can vary even from business to business.

Things like traveling with children (copies of birth certificates could be necessary in some cases) and traveling with medications (for instance, transgender travelers with hormones need to keep notes of authorization from their doctors) should be more heavily researched, Lewis said.

In destination, Lewis had the same tips for LGBTQ travelers that she would offer any traveler: stay aware of your surroundings, be mindful of the local culture and try not to stand out as a traveler. She reminded travelers to be courteous and respectful of cultural norms and to always carry a cellphone programmed with local emergency numbers, an emergency contact at home, a travel insurance contact and a local diplomatic facility.

Lewis also advised sharing an itinerary with a contact at home, keeping in touch with them and updating them if the itinerary changes.

Finally, Lewis offered some tips specifically for leisure travel agents.

"It's hard as a customer service provider, and I know this, to know what the specific profile of your traveler is," Lewis said. "So if they come out and say it, then all the better — you can provide that information," including what you learn from government websites or ManAboutWorld's travel safety guide.

"Any of those things are going to help you become more informed in addressing your clients' needs," she said.

If an agent doesn't know whether their client identifies as LGBTQ, but that client does express safety concerns about particular areas, Lewis recommended the agent be as "holistic as you can."

Provide information for general travelers as well as subsets, like women and LGBTQ travelers, all in one go.

"Cast a wide net," she said. "See what sticks, and don't worry about what doesn't stick."

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