Less than two years ago, when IGLTA proudly announced that for the first time ever, Atlanta had been chosen to host its annual global convention in 2021, the world was a very different place — and travel was a very different beast. It was December 2019, and none of us yet had a clue that such bizarre-sounding things as lockdowns, social distancing, double masking, and vaccination cards would soon become a part of our daily lives or that travel would be riddled with a host of ever-changing rules and restrictions.
As an organization, IGLTA found itself close to the heart of the COVID-19 crisis early on. Its 2020 annual global convention had been slated for May in the northern Italian city of Milan, but when it became clear by early March that Milan was suffering greatly as one the first global COVID-19 hotpots, IGLTA made the difficult decision to postpone its convention for the first time in its 37-year history. “The outbreak of the coronavirus has left all of us with many unknowns,” we said in a release at the time — which of course proved to be a massive understatement as the proceeding months played out.
But throughout the centuries, LGBTQ people have proven to be nothing if not resilient — for many of us, after all, this isn’t our first pandemic. Even as we find ourselves yearning for the simplicity of the way we used to travel, we know that the old ways were never perfect, and moreover that we can’t reset things to exactly where they were before — nor should we. This is a time to embrace innovation, foster creativity, and celebrate diversity in all forms. We can redouble our efforts to champion equity and inclusion in the travel industry, not only as it pertains to LGBTQ travelers, but also to ensure that BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) travelers are an integral part of the LGBTQ travel narrative.
IGLTA has also used this quieter time in travel to reinforce our commitment to making the future of LGBTQ travel easier for everyone by expanding our series of exclusive travel guides, which now include more than 30 free guides focusing on individual countries, and several guides dedicated to specific aspects of travel unique to our collective community, including LGBTQ safety, traveling with HIV, and trans safety. Our marriage equality guide integrates our partnership with Destination Pride to easily share LGBTQ laws, rights and social sentiment around the world.
As travel slowly comes back, the resilience of LGBTQ travelers should never be underestimated. History has shown that we are among the first to return to exploring the world when given the all-clear after a crisis, we are intensely loyal to the businesses that treat us with respect and make us feel genuinely welcomed, and we are armed with substantial spending power. The strong LGBTQ desire to return to travel was documented in a survey supported by our IGLTA Foundation last year, and it has only grown stronger as restrictions have continued.
We’ve all been dreaming of the big vacation we can take safely when the coast is clear—but it’s becoming more and more evident that this pandemic won’t be “magically disappearing” anytime soon. We at IGLTA believe that there’s no time like the present to start prioritizing travel in our lives again, even for trips that might not happen right away. The new set of travel variables before us may feel daunting or even overwhelming, but it’s important to remember that many facets of travel are still within our control. In fact, while airlines, hotels, and other travel entities have imposed some new restrictions, they’ve also relaxed many others, and in general are much more lenient in terms of rebookings.
If it’s been a while since you’ve worked with a travel advisor — or even if you never have at all — now is an excellent time to do so, since they can not only help you navigate the latest pandemic-related travel landscape but also assist you with keeping abreast of always-shifting national laws surrounding LGBTQ issues.
As our members from all over the world come together this week for networking and education at our 37th annual convention in Atlanta, we eagerly look forward to experiencing your wonderful city and its world-famous hospitality. Our opening reception takes place at the Georgia Aquarium and our legendary Voyage fundraiser for the IGLTA Foundation will happen at the Delta Flight Museum. Our 2021 IGLTA Honorees will include Atlanta Black Pride Weekend, which will receive our 2021 Pathfinder Award. Our speakers will include esteemed Atlanta LGBTQ trailblazers and leaders, and on Saturday during our annual Volunteer Event, our members will safely spread out across the city to donate their time to community service organizations like AID Atlanta and AHF.
We hope to meet you soon, whether it’s this week in Atlanta, or in some distant corner of the globe as we travel safely in the days to come.