Pól Ó Conghaile: Is Ireland as welcoming as we think to LGBTQ+ visitors?

Ireland is a safe and welcoming place for LGBTQ+ travellers.

With a gay Taoiseach, as the world’s first country to approve same-sex marriage by popular vote, that’s the narrative, anyway.

But is it the reality?

I called Eddie McGuinness, Dublin Pride festival manager and director of The Outing music and matchmaking festival, and Lisa Connell of GCN (Gay Community News), to talk about Ireland as a LGBTQ+ tourism destination.

Here’s what I learned.

1. We’re safe. Relatively.

Compared to Brunei, where gay sex is punishable by stoning to death, or places like Dubai and Malaysia, where homosexuality is illegal, Ireland is generally regarded as a safe and welcoming place for LGBTQ+ travellers. “Ireland has a lot to offer,” says Eddie. “We’re on the cusp of breaking through as a destination.”

2. But we have more to do.

“We’re not home and dry yet,” Lisa says. She points to sexual health, family rights, to stubbornly persistent stigmas that still see LGBTQ+ people “being othered” in Irish school yards and society, and to higher rates of mental health issues and addiction in their community. Experiences and attitudes differ across Ireland’s urban/rural gap, too.

3. We need to ‘visualise’.

Ireland is increasingly diverse, but our language and imagery revolves around white, heterosexual couples.

“That’s grand,” as Lisa puts it, “but there are other types.”

She and Eddie would like to see more of us challenge the idea of what an Irish person is. Do we make everybody feel represented in marketing posters or wedding brochures? In a travel feature on activities or romantic breaks, say, do I include a photo of LGBTQ+ family or couple?

Being more thoughtful about the words and images we use can help “better represent who and what we are, without losing our identity,” Eddie says.

4. There’s more to gay tourism than Pride.

Studies show that LGBTQ+ travellers are high-spending, yet Fáilte Ireland has no specific research on, and Tourism Ireland is not actively marketing to, the sector (the latter has a task force looking at how to attract LGBTQ+ visitors).

Compare destinations like Britain, Amsterdam or Illinois, which pro-actively market themselves as LGBTQ+-friendly. “We are safe and accepting,” Eddie says. “But the difference is we don’t tell people that we are.”

5. We all play a role.

I grew up in an Ireland where homosexuality was illegal. I’ve seen amazing change since then, but I know that as an editor, a dad and a citizen, I carry unconscious biases and need to keep learning.

Our tourism sector does too – from frontline staff to marketers and policymakers. “We have the ceád míle fáilte,” as Eddie says. “But it’s how we get that message across.”

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