Travel buyers were urged to manage the risks for all travellers visiting the 72 countries that currently criminalise homosexuality – eight of which can apply death sentences – as well as other destinations with cultures that are intolerant of LGBT people.
Panellists, speaking during a session at the GBTA convention in Boston, said that LGBT risk management is an “incredibly complex and nuanced” issue with a wide range of laws, interpretations and cultural attitudes.
These can also vary between different parts of a single country, said Jean-Marie Navetta, director at LGBT support organisation PFLAG National.
For example, she said, the UK’s Foreign Office (FCO) last year issued warnings for gay travellers visiting parts of the US.
The panel agreed that companies should provide training, resources and advice for all their business travellers for two key reasons:
Firstly, even though many organisations offer an inclusive, supportive environment for employees to be ‘out’, no company could possibly know the sexuality of all of its employees.
Secondly, as International SOS regional security manager Erika Weisbrod pointed out, many travelling employees who are not LGBT may have connections via family, friends or organisations reflected in their social media profiles, which can be searched – for example, “photos on Facebook of them attending a Pride rally”.
Companies themselves need to create “an environment of openness,” said Navetta, and travel managers “need to be able to ask the right questions” in conversations that can be stressful for employees divulging personal information.
An open environment is also highly beneficial to business, said Steve Roth, director at Out & Equal Workplace Advocates.
He cited research showing that feeling compelled to stay ‘in the closet’ can cause employee engagement and productivity to suffer by up to 30 per cent. The same research showed 26 per cent of LGBT employees stayed in a job ‘because the environment was accepting’.
Bruce Rohr, who is brand director for Marriott’s Luxury Collection and advisor to Marriott’s LGBTQ employee resource group, said for those larger companies with employee resource groups, these can be very useful for peer-to-peer messaging and local insights about the situation in the regions where a business operates.
The panel said travel buyers should research LGBT status and social climate in all countries visited by employees and consult with legal counsel and risk management providers.
They also need to ensure employees are aware of what’s available and know how to access policy information, training materials and resources without having to identify themselves – not all employees will be comfortable doing this.
Resources available to travel buyers and their travellers include:
· ILGA.org – international association, resources include global risk maps
· IGLTA.org – International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association
· outrightinternational.org – human rights organisation
· ManaboutWorld – LGBT Guide to Business Travel
· UK Foreign Office advice