It’s no surprise that the travel industry has dug its heels in cultivating a relationship with the LGBT market. According to the 20th Annual LGBT Tourism Survey by Community Marketing & Insights (December 2015), LGBT travelers have an impact of more than $75 billion per year in the United States alone, which doesn’t account for the inbound inter- national market. But dollar signs don’t always equate to authenticity. A multi-layered understanding of the tourism industry, both in terms of a brand’s particular niche as well as how that specifically relates to the LGBT traveler, is an imperative skill set to engage travelers and cultivate brand loyalty. Tom Alderink, Director of LGBT Sales. Director of Leisure Sales Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York for Belmond (www.belmond.com), a global collection of 46 iconic hotels, trains, and river cruises, is tasked with keeping his finger on the pulse of how our community is approaching travel in the 21st century. With Belmond’s spectacular portfolio of properties and experiences as his calling card, Alderink is helping to define luxury travel with an ethos that rings true for the discriminating LGBT traveler.
Growing up outside of Boston, Alderink attended high school at Lexington Christian Academy, where part of his senior-year curriculum included an internship that would set him on course for a career in the travel industry. He secured a role in reservation sales for an airline (a job that he would return to during his college years at Arizona State University) and evolved into full-time employment. Born with a sense of wanderlust, Alderink had been eager to move beyond his high school class of 50 and found ASU’s dynamic campus the perfect environment (warm weather included) for self-discovery.
“I came out while I was at ASU and developed a greater understanding of who I was as a person,” says Alderink. “I was always very comfortable with that part of myself. I knew I was gay and was fortunate to be in an accepting and comfortable environment.”
Alderink’s time in the airline industry afforded him the ability to travel in different capacities, sometimes with a romantic partner and at other times with groups of friends. Unbeknownst to him at the time, these varied experiences that are inspired by a sense of curiosity, were a relevant foundation for his approach at Belmond.
Dating back more than 40 years, Belmond began with founder James B. Sherwood’s acquisition of the Hotel Cipriani in Venice, Italy. As the owner of the Sea Containers company which earned him the title of “the father of container leasing,” his work took him around the world. This new venture into luxury hotels was intended to diversify his portfolio. Sherwood’s interest expanded to vintage Orient-Express carriages and today, Belmond’s collection includes historic hotels, trains, river cruises, and safaris.
“Belmond offers authentic escapes, defining features, and a unique collection of experiences like nobody else in the luxury space,” says PR Director Samantha Strawford. “These are experiences like none other. For example: Belmond Hotel Cipriani is in the center of the city, but there’s a sense of escapism; Ireland’s Belmond Grand Hiberian mixes modern luxury with traditional design; and Belmond Andean Explorer in Peru will offer one of the highest train journeys on earth. We’re always looking to infuse experiences with real soul, where travelers can dis- cover genuine hospitality and warm characters with great stories to tell.”
Those kinds of immersive experiences, which cross borders and cultures, regardless of sexual orientation or gender roles, are part of Belmond’s DNA. A more formalized connection with the LGBT community has been a natural extension. “We have a lot of longevity in this company (I’ve been with the brand ten years) and my predecessors were participating in LGBT shows that existed at the time, though it wasn’t a dedicated role as it is now,” Alderink reflects. “It speaks to a practice of inclusion that has always existed.”
Good intentions also need to be backed by an infrastructure that can understand and support the ever-evolving facets of the LGBT community. Alderink’s personal growth involved taking a step back from his own experience for a more objective analysis of travel trends. “The position [of Director of LGBT Sales] was an evolution. I got involved with the International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association (IGLTA) to better understand LGBT hospitality,” says Alderink. “I’m a gay man, but that doesn’t make me the expert. It’s still a learning process for me. I wanted to know what products are out there and what are the best practices to better our initiatives when reaching out to the community.”
Founded in 1983, IGLTA is the world’s leading global travel network dedicated to connecting and educating LGBT travelers and businesses that support them. With greater perspective drawn from members spanning more than 80 countries world- wide, Alderink saw the potential and shared his thoughts with Annette Kishon-Pines, Belmond’s regional director of sales, the Americas. Together, they crafted a job description specifically targeting the LGBT market, presented it to the board, and he was granted the title of director of LGBT sales.
Alderink leveraged his relationship with IGLTA as a springboard for Belmond’s bolstered presence within the LGBT travel community. “Under Tom’s leadership, Belmond was the first luxury hotel company to join our global partnership program, placing them among the elite group of brands that have committed to year-round support of IGLTA and LGBT travel,” says IGLTA President/CEO John Tanzella. “They increased this commitment further for 2017. Tom is a professional, passionate advocate for our industry, dedicated to ensuring LGBT travelers feel safe and welcome.”
Belmond Mount Nelson Hotel in South Africa opened its doors in the spring of 2016 to IGLTA’s international convention, the first LGBT tourism conference to be held on the continent. With more than 300 attendees, it was the association’s largest event outside of North America, generating the equivalent of more than $182,000 for Cape Town’s economy. “[The convention] gave us the opportunity to showcase what we do as a brand, and what we should all be doing in hospitality, which is welcoming everyone,” says Alderink.
Beyond the IGLTA partnership, Alderink has created Belmond’s LGBT Advisory Board, composed of travel agents, tour operators, and media. By combining forces and drawing expertise from a broad spectrum of the industry, he and his team have a better understanding of evolving trends. There is also a dedicated microsite (www.belmond.com/lgbt-travel) with inspiration for vacations, celebrations, honeymoons, and group travel.
Key points relevant to Belmond have emerged from the newly published Handbook of LGBT Tourism and Hospitality by Jeff Guaracino and Ed Salvato (Harrington Park Press, 2017). According to the authors, whose exhaustive research spanned hundreds of interviews and six continents, “LGBT Baby Boomers have money, and they’re willing to spend it” and “the gay male market is still composed mostly of DINKS (double income no kids).”
Alderink also sees family travel as an emerging market for the community, a keen insight explored in detail by last year’s LGBT Family Travel: A Study by the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau. Research indicated that LGBT families like staying at the beach, and that 70 percent of LGBT parents prefer a general vacation in an LGBT-friendly atmosphere.
“It’s always a learning process,” says Alderink. “Trends evolve and change rapidly, and staying on top of it is an important part of my role. I attend seminars and forums that explore topics around travel and tourism. As an industry, when we educate ourselves and learn as much as possible, we can translate a better experience for the LGBT consumer.”
Such experiences are worthy of any buck- et list with Belmond’s latest offerings. Two luxury barges launch this summer as part of Belmond Afloat in France. Lilas and Pivoine will cruise throughout Alsace and Champagne, offering guests glorious access to some of the most picturesque vistas throughout the French countryside, as well as access to family-owned vineyards, Michelin-starred restaurants, and historical sites. The barges’ designs are inspired by “biophelia,” which brings outside inspiration into interior spaces. Each barge will visually represent its surroundings through color, handmade furniture, and floating gardens.
For those seeking literal new heights, Belmond Andean Explorer, a luxury train that traverses Peru’s highlands, hits the rails this summer. Enjoy a pisco sour in the observation car before settling into a plush cabin inspired by Alpaca tones. Pending itinerary, highlights may include La Raya Mountain range, Lake Titicaca, Sumbay Caves, and Taquile Island.
When asked of his favorite destinations, Alderink is tight-lipped but with good reason. “Truly, in my honest experience, I always find a ‘wow’ factor in a destination. There is always something to discover no matter where you go in the world. It wouldn’t be fair to allocate a favorite because what you get in Southeast Asia is different than South America. That’s what makes this world so fascinating, its diversity.”