Published on December 11th, 2016 | by Mark Chesnut0
LGBT Confex Report: What Hotels in Mexico Really Think About LGBT Travelers
It’s not debatable that the LGBT community — and LGBT travelers — have gained great visibility and increased acceptance in many corners of the world. But how do hotels in Mexico, one of the biggest tourism destinations in Latin America, treat and lure the LGBT market, and what do hoteliers in Mexico really think about this important group of the traveling public?
That was the topic of a lively panel discussion I led during the sixth annual LGBT Confex, Mexico’s largest LGBT tourism and business conference, which drew a record number of attendees to Mexico City’s World Trade Center this year. Three Mexico hotel industry experts shared their insight about hotel trends in the LGBT market — including representatives from Oasis Hotels & Resorts, which markets its Grand Oasis Sens resort in Cancun as an especially LGBT-friendly property, Costa Sur Resort & Spa, a Puerto Vallarta beach hotel that’s found great success with LGBT destination weddings, and Neta Comunicación, which works with big international hotel brands to target LGBT travelers.
You can see the full video of our panel discussion (in Spanish) on YouTube; here are some highlights of this fascinating talk about LGBT hospitality trends — and the surprising issue that the panelists found more troubling and prevalent than homophobic discrimination.
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Mark Chesnut, editor, LatinFlyer.com: How do hotels prepare themselves appropriately for the LGBT market today in Mexico?
Saúl Lomelí Guerrero, associate director, Neta Comunicación: Before marketing or communication, for whatever segment, the most important thing is to perfect the service. You could sell incredible service, but if — when guests arrive — it turns out the service isn’t what you sold, that’s a big problem. The inclusion of LGBT personnel in hotels and service providers is vital. Someone who feels free and equal while working helps hotels a lot.
Gelsey Fadul, sales and marketing director, Costa Sur Resort & Spa: Puerto Vallarta is a destination that’s positioned as the number two LGBT destination in Latin America, so for us it was a very natural transition. But we didn’t want to take it for granted. We worked, and we continue to work every month — not just focused on the LGBT community but on service in general.
Paco Carrera, vice president of sales, Oasis Hotels & Resorts: I’ve noticed that probably within the last 10 years there is a generational change in hotel employees, in social channels, marketing and publicity —the fact that everyone is friends with someone who’s gay, everyone has a family member who’s gay. It’s a general opening on every level so that there is no longer a stigma, it’s no longer a secret, it is simply what it is — a distinct feature and not an epithet.
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Chesnut: It’s great that you three are here, and there are some other hotel brands represented at the conference as well. But there are also several brands that aren’t here. Why do you think that is?
Fadul: The truth is that even in Vallarta, there are hotels that definitely aren’t as open to the market. That’s the reality. Costa Sur is a friendly hotel that’s open to the LGBT community and I think that’s what everyone sees when they visit our page. We added a section … with different segments, packages, weddings, etc. We love helping the community, and I’d love to see other hotels doing that. Puerto Vallarta is, as I mentioned, the number one [LGBT] destination in Mexico, the number-two destination in Latin America — but it’s a reality that we have to confront that not all hotels are friendly.
Lomelí Guerrero: Not all hotels or all brands, nor all service providers, are open to this [market]. In resorts where the majority of guests are foreigners, things have [progressed] much more rapidly than in cities that receive a mix of foreigners and domestic travelers. Domestic peak travel season also works very differently. So there is still progress to be made and a lot to say about visibility and normalization.
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Chesnut: How are Mexico’s domestic and international LGBT markets different?
Carrera: I’ve been openly gay all my life, and in Mexico in particular I’ve never felt discriminated against, nor any tension or animosity. I don’t hide at any moment.
Fadul: In Puerto Vallarta, the difference between the domestic and international market in terms of LGBT [travelers]… I don’t see a big difference, except that domestic LGBT weddings are much larger, for obvious reasons; it’s much easier to come from various cities in Mexico to Puerto Vallarta than it is internationally. We’re talking about an average of 150 guests for domestic, versus an average of no more than 60 guests for international.
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Lomelí Guerrero: The differences … come from the problems that we have in Mexico; it’s a bit of classism. That’s what we face today. We face racism against ourselves as Mexicans. In hotels there is more discrimination against people for being poor than for being gay. We’re in a society with work to do in this area; it’s something that affects and still hurts tourism. We’ve progressed a lot with the LGBT issue, but we still must work with the other issue.
Fadul: I agree with you. But I’ll tell you something: It depends on us, we who are in the industry, to change this mentality. I’m Panamanian, and it’s surprised me to see the level of racism among Mexicans [against Mexicans] — and it’s very true, in fact, that there is more racism among Mexicans than LGBT [discrimination]. We have to take the baton and educate staff members to not be racist, to not see a difference if [someone] is Mexican, Brazilian, American or Canadian.
Carrera: I agree … the domestic market is the most important that we have for hotels in Cancun. It’s true that everyone pays attention to North Americans because of the economic effect and all that, however, I must say that the average revenue that I have from the domestic market is almost the same as what I have from the foreign market.
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Chesnut: Where do you see the LGBT market in Mexico’s hospitality industry in five or 10 years?
Carrera: I hope that the LGBT segment won’t be an issue of separation from any other type of market. Sometimes I think having an LGBT segment incites discrimination. We’re on the road to integration on all levels.
Fadul: I agree with you, but I don’t think it will happen in the next five years. I’m a bit more realistic, because I’ve experienced the integration of my hotel and I live in a destination that’s very open, but where there are still many hotels that aren’t.
Lomelí Guerrero: In five years I hope we’ll have arrived at normalization, to the point of not having to put out colors or flags, to not have things that exclude us from ourselves.
The next LGBT Confex takes place in Bogota, Colombia, on May 26-27, 2017, and returns to Mexico City on September 29-30, 2017.