Opinion: 'It's more important than ever for destinations to be open to all'

Virgin Atlantic's Chief Commercial Officer Juha Jarvinen reveals how the airline is working to show anti-LGBTQ countries the social and economic benefits of embracing equality


Words: Juha Jarvinen

As Virgin Atlantic prepares to share research on the economic case for LGBT+ inclusion in the Caribbean at a public webinar on Wednesday, we revisit Virgin Atlantic’s Chief Commercial Officer Juha Jarvinen's op-ed on the subject from issue 334.

This past year has been like no other – everyone reading this will have been impacted in some way by the COVID-19 pandemic, and at Virgin Atlantic we have faced the most difficult 12 months in our proud 37-year history.

We’re not alone — according to the World Travel and Tourism Council, one in 10 jobs globally relies on a healthy travel and tourism industry, which accounts for more than 10 per cent of global GDP — or $8.9 trillion.

As lockdown eases and destinations begin to open their borders, our thoughts turn to the safe restart of international travel. We know there is pent-up demand; customers can’t wait to escape to a sunny beach, to visit friends and loved ones overseas, or to re-establish business connections around the globe.

In a post-COVID world, it’s more important than ever for destinations to be open and welcoming to all. A recent survey by Attitude showed that 82 per cent of readers consider a country’s LGBTQ+ laws before travelling and 75 per cent would not go where homosexuality is illegal.

One of our biggest leisure destinations, and one of the UK’s favourite holiday spots, is also one of the least LGBTQ+ inclusive. It’s incredibly sad that in today’s world, many Caribbean nations still enforce colonial homophobic laws. The region has much to offer, but its history and culture of religious conservatism and the pressure to conform to heteronormative gender identities means life is not equal for either LGBTQ+ nationals or foreign visitors.

Tourism plays a vital role in the economies of many Caribbean countries, which have suffered particularly harshly as a result of the worldwide travel slowdown caused by COVID-19. But the spread of anti-LGBTQ+ policies runs counter to the interests of prosperity.

To support the region’s economic recovery, in the future it will be essential for these nations to attract the widest possible demographic of travellers, including those who identify as LGBTQ+, and their allies. The truth is that successful, enterprising businesses thrive in diverse, inclusive societies.

As we all take stock of how this global pandemic has changed our lives in so many ways, it allows us to campaign for change and shake things up. At Virgin Atlantic, although we haven’t been flying as many passengers as we’d have liked over the past year, we certainly haven’t been sitting still. We have forged ahead with our Business for Good agenda, laying the groundwork for economic recovery in the Caribbean by building the case for advancing LGBTQ+ rights and inclusion. Understanding and tackling the barriers that remain — particularly in the tourism sector — is an important component of this.

Previously, we have partnered with the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association Education Foundation (CHTAEF), offering guest care and diversity training to hotel employees and tourism students so they can better understand and meet the needs of the rapidly altering demographics of the UK traveller.

We have now teamed up with Open for Business, a fantastic organisation that champions the business rationale for global LGBTQ+ inclusion.

A previous report by Open for Business on Kenya showed that 1.7 per cent of GDP is lost due to LGBTQ+ discrimination. That’s more than £800 million lost every year due to homophobic laws. Using a Caribbean island nation as an example, with GDP worth £3.69 billion, this could result in more than £50 million down the drain.

Our goal is to compile comprehensive data that supports growth and put it before the local business leaders and decision-makers in Caribbean governments. We want to present a case that cannot be ignored, one that makes clear the financial impact that the anti-LGBTQ+ laws have on the region’s people and economy.

Our work with Open for Business spans two phases — the first is a research phase, collecting data to understand the socioeconomic and business impact of excluding the LGBTQ+ community. The second is to build a sustainable network of business leaders and civil society to collaborate on advancing LGBTQ+ rights and inclusion, using the research as the impetus for doing so.

We’re in the final stages of reviewing the findings and we look forward to presenting them in conjunction with our friends at Attitude, in a uniquely Virgin way. We can only hope that the Caribbean governments are open to listening.

The past year of restrictions and lockdown has led us to strip everything back to what matters most and human connection tops the list. It’s more important than ever to open up the world and make it inclusive and welcoming to everyone. Using the power of our brand, we will push for real change.

Virgin Atlantic is to share research on 'The Economic Case For LGBT+ Inclusion in the Caribbean' in a public webinar this Wednesday (30 June) from 2-3:30pm BST (9am-10:30am EST).

The Attitude Summer issue is out now.

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