Why should you attend the IGLTA Global Conference in Osaka, Japan?
In all of my travels, I have never felt more welcome or connected to people at a conference. This is what hospitality in the LGBTQA+ community is about!
Not a typical blog post
Before you read this post, you should know it isn’t about the tangible benefits you’ll find on the IGLTA website. It’s not about the fantastic break-out sessions with industry experts, and it’s not about the amazing panels that taught me about our community and why travel and visibility are so important. What it is about is how welcoming the IGLTA is and how, by attending my first conference – I found my people!
In all of my travels and tradeshows, I have never felt more welcome or connected to people at a conference. This is exactly what hospitality in the LGBTQA+ community should be about about! People took the time to hear my stories and participate in conversations that changed my mindset on global travel – and that’s no easy feat, considering I’m a partner at one of the most innovative advertising agencies (WeCreate) in the travel and hospitality industry. (In fact, according to Inc 5000, we are the fastest growing agency in the state of Indiana.)
I’m not a member (yet), and I didn’t know much about the IGLTA, but I love tourism marketing, and I’m LGBTQA+… so when Dustin Woehrmann & Rachel Covello, who I met at the eTourism Summit invited me, I took the leap.
I had never gone to a conference alone before. I knew two people attending but not well enough to plan anything ahead – I was really nervous! I’m on the autism spectrum, so getting warmed up is hard for me. So I dressed to impress and worked myself up to meet people. And…. of course, I was too early. No one was there yet, no one was dressed up, and I was there right when registration opened. I was sitting alone on a bench nearby, and it wasn’t 5 minutes before I made my first friend, Aaron Paiva Leyton (Peru Travel Advisor “TOURGUIDEPERU” and travel Vlogger “That Guide.”) Little did I know this was the first domino in a chain of events that would lead to me “Finding my People.”
I told Aaron I was nervous about meeting people, and this is what he told me:
“Since 2013, I have attended the IGLTA convention 6 times, and in each opportunity, my brain has been challenged to new goals, connected with new buyers, and most importantly, I have grown as a professional. If you are interested in connecting with responsible LGBT travel businesses & entrepreneurs, IGLTA is your home.”
Wow! Ok. I’ll have some of that, please!
WRITERS NOTE: You’ll notice there are a lot of quotes in this post. That’s because when I mentioned to my business partner Wade that I was writing this blog about how welcoming the IGLTA was, he told me the best way to show that was by asking for a few first-hand quotes. “Ask for 10 quotes,” he said. “I don’t need ten quotes!” I reapplied. “Yeah, but only three people will actually do it for you. It will be fine!” I bet him that everyone would respond right away. Well, well, well, Wade. I now have the privilege of including 11 quotes – which is more than the 10 I asked for and actually proves how invested people are. Every single person I asked sent one in, plus one I borrowed from a text message, so of course, I won the bet. 😉
Back to the story:
Long story short, one friend introduced me to another, and things snowballed. Let’s warm up with one of the kindest quotes I received from Waathiq Hilton (He/Him), Chief Sales Officer (CSO) at Rhino Africa
“The IGLTA conference was a memorable experience for me, and you were one of the reasons why. You inspired me with your passion, knowledge, and kindness. I’m grateful for our connection and friendship.” (It goes on about how I am a “rainbow in the travel sky,” but I’m not trying to make you cry this early.) – Heart you, buddy!
Rather than tell you all the details of how I was adopted into a “crash” of Rhinos with the most generous and kind team of people I have ever met at Rhino Africa or how my “Emotional Support Human” shirt led to the day of a hundred hugs (and a few tears) or even how Dustin Woehrmann’s “I feel like I belong when…’ exercise let to “people making room at a table that was already full,” I’d like to share a few quotes about why some very wonderful humans from around the world think this is such a welcoming place for so many people in our community.
I want you to hear it from people whose experience was very different from mine, people I am lucky to have met and built what I hope are lifelong friendships.
After you read them, I finally get to the point of this whole post – so read on!
As they say, “Don’t take my word for it!”
The thing I love most about these conventions is the unmistakable eagerness and passion that radiates from the newcomers. I am always deeply moved witnessing the bonds that are formed across the globe. Each convention I’ve attended, the IGLTA community has shown itself to be a warm and nurturing lion pride, always ready to envelop others with love and support. The beautifully diverse tapestry of attendees share stories, dreams, and ideas, transcending barriers that make every first-timer feel at home.
Above all, the IGLTA convention ignites a spark of empowerment and inclusivity. It provides a sanctuary for not only the LGBTQ+ community but also for allies and industry professionals who believe in creating a truly inclusive world of travel. This exceptional event allows us to embrace our individuality and build lifelong connections, all while fostering empathy and understanding for the diverse communities we encounter around the globe.
“For me, the convention was a vibrant celebration of diversity, love, and the unifying power of travel. It left an indelible mark on me, reinforcing my commitment to fostering inclusivity in the world of travel. I eagerly await my return as a seasoned attendee, knowing that I’m part of a movement that’s making the world more welcoming for all.”
“As a Lexingtonian and a first-time attendee, it was heartwarming to have people approach our booth and express their appreciation for having a southern/midwestern state represented at IGLTA. The important conversations around “red” states and the emphasis on reminding everyone that the political status of a state is not representative of all the individuals who live there were so important for me to experience. We’re allies, and IGLTA allows us to express that at an international level.”
“IGLTA Members have a wonderful and warm way of welcoming first-timers to its conventions. There are so many ways to meet and connect during the conference, and it’s really nice to see such diverse members of our community doing such important work to foster love, understanding, and acceptance in the world.”
When you get together a large group of people dedicating their careers to creating a warm welcome for diverse travelers, it naturally makes for an inviting environment for first-time attendees, too. It’s embedded in our DNA! We love that first-time attendees continue joining us throughout the year at our events, participate on committees, and support each other.
“This year’s IGLTA Convention was my favorite yet. I love the opportunity to build community, and with attendance from 36 countries and all colors of the rainbow, I was reminded just how much strength there is in diversity. As enjoyable as it is to see old friends, it’s even more rewarding to forge new friendships. Friendships like the one I’ve made with newcomer Eli.”
“Having the chance to attend a conference based on inclusion is all about driving empowerment for people, and IGLTA provided an experience where people could drive positive impacts for each other through networking, activities, sessions, and fun.”
“I find that people who work in travel and tourism are incredibly welcoming. I mean, their jobs are basically finding ways to bring people together to visit their destination or take their tours. I’ve met some amazing people at the IGLTA Convention over the years and always look forward to going back (and inviting friends)!”
…Inviting friend Dustin?!!! Me!!! You invited me! LOL! Thank you for the very personal quote! 😉
Arms wide open
Why is this conference so welcoming? Why does it matter? I believe it comes down to the mission.
Travel is the fastest way to change the mindset of the world. On one hand, exposure to people different from you opens you to empathy and acceptance. On the other, as a traveler, we must support our community in the fun places and the places where the visibility of the LGBTQA+ community really matters – especially places where our community is marginalized. (safely, of course.)
I found my people at the IGLTA conference.
Thank you for your hospitality.
See you in Osaka!
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