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New statistics reveal that despite growing awareness and advocacy for LGBTQIA+ rights, only 1 in 7 organisations offer LGBTQIA+ specific travel information before visiting a country, showing no improvement from the previous year. 

Leading travel risk management and assistance provider World Travel Protection’s annual business traveller survey* reveals only 9% of organisations offer information on LGBTQIA+ rights before visiting a country for those who disclose their LGBTQIA+ identity, and even fewer (8%) provide such information for those who do not disclose.

Media personality Tim Lai, who is also Marketing Manager for LGBTQIA+ education charity The Pinnacle Foundation, travels overseas regularly for work. He says throughout his previous career in the technology sector spanning multiple organisations, he was never provided with support or information about the LGBTQIA+ landscape of his destination.

“As an openly gay man, I struggled when visiting countries with openly anti-LGBTQIA+ stances,” Lai says.

“While I appreciate that much improvement has been made in providing support, knowledge, and cultural education by global organisations these days, more needs to be done. Companies need to ensure that LGBTQIA+ employees are well-informed about the local laws and social attitudes of the countries they are sent to and provide resources or contacts to ensure their safety.

“The progress is commendable, but we must continue to push for comprehensive, actionable support for all LGBTQIA+ professionals working abroad,” he says.

Paul Trotter, World Travel Protection’s Intelligence and Security lead, reports that Tim’s experience is unfortunately common for many business travellers.

He says the disappointing survey results highlight a lack of progress in addressing the needs of LGBTQIA+ employees. In response to these challenges, Trotter offers six invaluable tips for companies responsible for the well-being of their travelling employees.

Understand the legal landscape

With 70+ countries criminalising same-sex relationships, and increasing anti-LGBTQIA+ sentiment even in previously ‘safe’ regions, awareness and proactive measures are vital. Engagement with certain websites or apps in some jurisdictions can result in fines or imprisonment, highlighting the importance of understanding local laws and potential consequences. However, only 1 in 7 employers offer LGBTQIA+ rights information before international travel. It’s crucial for organisations to provide employees with resources to research destinations, such as Smartraveller, for the latest safety advice. Resources like the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association and the Human Dignity Trust also offer insights into global LGBTQIA+ rights and legal protections.

Consider the culture

Understanding cultural context is crucial beyond legal considerations. Discrimination against the LGBTQIA+ community may persist even in places without explicit legal targeting. Be mindful of attire and behaviour, stick to well-lit areas, and use buddy systems for safety, especially at night. One of World Travel Protection’s partners, Riskline, recently released a graphic with a global overview of LGBTQ travel, which is a good visual representation of traveller safety by country – but it’s important to remember that differences can exist within each country as well. 

Engage carefully with local authorities

Seeking assistance from local authorities can be helpful, as some locations offer support from law enforcement officers for travellers feeling threatened or unsafe. However, in regions where LGBTQIA+ relationships and identities are criminalised, engaging with law enforcement may not always be safe. It’s crucial to be aware of the social and cultural attitudes toward sexuality and gender before seeking help from authorities.

Safety in numbers

World Travel Protection’s survey reveals 39% of Australian business travellers are concerned about facing discrimination for their gender or sexuality during their business trips, with women (45%) more concerned than men (32%). Safety in numbers cannot be underestimated. World Travel Protection advises LGBTQIA+ travellers to stick with colleagues or their local host while exploring unfamiliar territories. Employers should assess employee comfort before assigning destinations and consider sending multiple representatives for support in locations that are less safe.

Utilise technology for safety

Using travel assistance apps for prompt alerts and easy access to help, including dedicated support for LGBTQIA+ travellers via World Travel Protection’s Travel Assist app, can enable employees and companies to monitor situations closely and access immediate assistance in emergencies.

Prioritise Mental Health

Mental health should not be overlooked amid the challenges faced by LGBTQIA+ travellers. Navigating cultures and political landscapes that are openly hostile to their identities can have a detrimental impact on mental well-being. Experiencing overt danger and harassment is an obvious source of stress and anxiety, but the pressure to conceal one’s sexuality or gender expression can also be profoundly harmful. Employers should prioritise mental healthcare by providing access to support services and regularly checking in with employees while they are on the road.

*Opinium online survey conducted from 1 February to 8 February 2024 with 500 people who travel for business at least once a year in Australia. This survey is part of a wider survey of 2,000 people across UK, Australia, US and Canada (500 respondents in each region) who travel for business at least once a year.