Resisting the backlash on human rights of LGBTI people in the Americas through responsible tourism
Resisting the human rights backlash through responsible tourism
Remarks at the 4WardAmericas Conference in Miami February 17, 2019
This year marks the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the 50th anniversary of Stonewall. Yet, many of us feel powerless in the face of a perceived backtracking on human rights of LGBTI people globally as well as in the Americas.
I would like first to express words of optimism. Progress on human rights of LGBTI people in the Americas is continuing and the trend remains upward. In 2018, the Courts have advanced human rights of LGBTI people tremendously on this continent. As an example, last year in Trinidad & Tobago the country’s sodomy laws were declared unconstitutional (April 2018), in Chile, the president of the Supreme Court stated that the advisory opinion of the Inter-American Court regarding same-sex marriage rights is binding, and In Brazil last week the Supreme Court had an hearing to assess if homophobia should become a crime.
However, while Latin America has been for a long time a pioneer on legal rights of LGBTI people, it is true that popular attitudes often lagged. Therefore, the recrudescence of anti-LGBTI speech in politics in parts of the continent is extremely worrying. It taps into a tradition of violence and discrimination against LGBTI people: as an example 125 transgender people in Brazil were killed between January and the end of September 2018 in Brazil.
But today I would like to make a point that we do not have to rely exclusively on courts and politicians to address this urgent issue.
In the words of the former High Commissioner Zeid on Human Rights Day last year, “human rights are too important to be left to States alone — too precious to all of us, and to our children.”
The reality is that, as consumers, employees, investors and businesses, we hold a great deal of responsibility and power to shape the future of many communities. My grandmother used to tell me that if all the consumers of the World would unite, nations would tremble. This is particularly true when it comes to the travel and tourism industry which has become a vital source of income for many regions and entire countries.
At the time the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted, there were about just 25 million tourist international arrivals per year, 70 years later this number has increased to 1.3 billion arrivals . And this trend is continuously accelerating: arrivals increased 7% in 2017. It is estimated that the Travel and Tourism sector now accounts for 10.4% of global GDP and 9.9% of total employment: that is one dollar in ten and one job in ten !
And within this gigantic industry, LGBT Tourism, a market segment which registers higher expenditure and longer stays in comparison to others, is considered a motor.
Beyond its economic impact, tourism is also an activity central to the human rights agenda because of its direct effects on the social and cultural fabric of societies. As travellers and businesses in the industry, we must be global ambassadors for human rights of LGBTI people. Last year at the IGLTA, I met with the owner of Foozoo Travel in Sri Lanka who told me how welcoming LGBTI tourists in his guest house challenged the perception of his employees, their families and ultimately the community on LGBTI people.
A first step for consumers is to demand that travel providers make a public commitment to human rights and adopt standards for themselves and their supply chain. These include having a human rights policy, assessing the human rights impacts of their activities; integrating human rights into corporate cultures and management systems, and monitoring, evaluating and reporting performance. As an example, some of the largest players in the industry have publicly expressed support for the Global LGBTI Standards of Conduct my office launched in September 2017. Companies like IGH, Hyatt, Hilton, ClubMed, Marriott, AirBNB, American Airlines, Lufthansa, Virgin, Avianca, the Lalit Hotels, Sonders Beach etc.. have publicly expressed support for these Standards committing to do more to respect and promote human rights of LGBTI people.
While ultimately the primary responsibility for human rights resides with governments, the weight of tourism in the global economy provides us with a unique opportunity to resist the global backlash on human rights.
Concretely, you can start today with an email or letter to the resort you plan to visit or the hotel chain you invested in enquiring about their human rights policy and their engagement to respect and promote human rights of LGBTI people. In a time of backlash, approaching tourism responsibly could be the single most important action of resistance your take. The slogan here is: travellers, unite for human rights!
I read yesterday that anti-LGBT policies in the making in Brazil may contribute to an even bigger growth for tourism from this sector for Argentina. More than 490,000 LGBT tourists segment visited Argentina during 2018, which accounted for an 11% year-on-year growth, and it is expected that it will benefit from a significant exodus from the Brazilian market. This could have tremendously negative consequences for an industry that represents 2.6% of total employment in Brazil. This is a message that needs to be conveyed to decision-makers: homophobia and transphobia do not pay.
Finally, in looking at a human-rights friendly tourism we should go beyond LGBTI issues and consider the indivisibility and universality of Human Rights including issues such as labor, human trafficking or freedom from torture. Tourists should ask themselves the questions: does the chambermaid in the resort you visited this summer receive living wages? Does the local government torture prisoners in the name of tourists’ security? Did the neighbouring community benefit from your stay? Were its land rights respected when the resort was built? Is your travel provider using its leverage to advance human rights?
We have the agency to contribute to shape the world we want. Even though it has now become a cliché, I will end with this quote by Margaret Mead ‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.’
Thank you for your attention
For more information:
- Travel & Tourism Economic Impact 2018 World — https://www.wttc.org/-/media/files/reports/economic-impact-research/regions-2018/world2018.pdf
- The global backlash against human rights, Edited text of a lecture by Andrew Gilmour, University of California, Berkeley and McGeorge School of Law, Sacramento, 12 and 13 March 2018 — https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=23202&LangID=E
- Tourism and Human Rights of #LGBTI people — Remarks at #IGLTA2018, May 11 2018