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During the last three days of the press trip to Spain, I focused my attention on the International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association (IGLTA) Convention and activities hosted at Hotel Melia Castilla in Madrid. What I enjoy doing most is networking and getting to know people, and that’s exactly what I did at the receptions, educational workshops, and expos.
One of the first things I noticed when arriving and checking in at the registration desk was the buyer/ supplier marketplace. I spoke with people in different booths who were representing a wide variety of organizations, including one representing gay wedding destinations in Asia. I was pleased to find Visit Denver’s LGBT flyers presented in the marketplace as well – something that was set up a few months earlier after I nudged Visit Denver to do it. There was also a fun photo booth in this area, where attendees could try on silly masks and upload their photos right to social media.
While I love a good speech, I’m not typically a fan of being held captive in a room for an hour worth of slides. I was pleasantly surprised by all of the workshops I attended at this conference. There definitely was some overlap in what was covered at this event vs. other LGBT conferences, but the content was very engaging and interesting.
After being encouraged by Ed Salvato, Chief Editor of ManAboutWorld, I attended the Gay Travel/ Gay Rights – A Long History/ A Bright Future which was led by Billy Kolber and Tanya Churchmuch. The session examined how the tourism industry has contributed to the advancement of LGBT rights, and its implication of those rights going forward. One fascinating piece of information I learned from the speakers is that the New York Times was the first publication that associated the word “gay” with the LGBT community in an ad that they placed in the paper in the 1970’s. I’m trying to hunt that ad down to share with you!
When the Q&A wrapped up I recorded an interview for the podcast with Ed Salvato and headed the Women In Business session. Although I missed some of it because interviews always take more time than expected, I caught the tail end of Selisse Berry’s talk. Selisse is the founder & CEO of Out & Equal Workplace Advocates, the world’s largest nonprofit organization specifically dedicated to creating safe and equitable workplaces for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. As this session finished, I was the first to walk up to her an introduce myself. We chatted about OUTsource, the LGBT Business Resource Group I started at ServiceSource, the corporate job I held for almost five years.
Next it was time for the big event of the evening, the Opening Reception at Las Rozas Village. We all piled into buses and headed out into the intense Madrid rush hour traffic. I felt like I was back in Denver or Los Angeles, at the pace we were moving. It probably took us an hour to get to where we were headed, and we arrived at an outdoor shopping mall where we posed for photos, shopped, and enjoyed a nice cocktail reception. It was here that I got to catch up with so many people that I’ve met over the past year and a half: Matt Skallerud, Alan Beck, Serge Gojkovich, Tom Roth, David Paisely, and others.
Friday was another conference day and I had a blast at the media workshop titled It’s Not You, It’s Media, the media trade show, and the networking and awards lunch.
The media workshop featured keynote speaker Spud Hilton, the San Francisco Chronicle Travel Editor. He spoke about how every time you post a status update you are publishing and advertising yourself. He offered his perspective and insights on social media too.
During the media trade show, I got to visit all of my friends in their booths and meet more companies/publications, picking up magazines and other LGBT media swag. One table that was particularly interesting was that of EDGE Media/ Pride Lab where I spoke with the CEO, David Foucher, about the cool (and free!) apps that they build for various organizations.
The closing lunch, sponsored by Visit Argentina, was a true highlight of the event, mainly because I got to see Merryn Johns (past Gay Ambitions interviewee) and Bob Witeck (future Gay Ambitions interviewee) accept awards for the IGLTA Honors Award and Chair Award. Merryn’s speech was so inspiring, including the lesbian traveler’s perspective and her personal story – I wish I had a video to share with you!! I applauded and cheered as loudly as I could when the speakers finished.
Celebration was definitely the theme of this weeklong adventure. There were nights that we went out on our own, sometimes exploring bars such as BLACK & WHITE to see drag shows and hustlers. **Note, don’t ever try to convince a prostitute that he’s above his line of work. He won’t understand. Other nights we ended up wondering around to different hot spots, with mixed luck.
I was pleased that the media reception was happening on Friday night on the rooftop deck of my hotel. We had even more people in attendance and enjoyed photos and an impromptu performance in the brand new pool!
Impromptu performance at Innside Suecia Rooftop Media Reception
The last two parties, as part of a tradition, were hosted by the current host city (Madrid) and the host city of next year (Los Angeles). The Madrid Host City Event happened on Friday after the media reception at Cibeles Palace (City Hall). It was complete with cocktails, performances, and networking. The Los Angeles closing reception happened the next night, and the company made it great, but it was a bit far from hotels and anticlimactic in my opinion.
The trip was a success by all definitions. I extend my sincere gratitude to LoAnn Halden, IGLTA Media Relations Director, for connecting me to this wonderful opportunity. As I continue to build out this website and project, trips like these help me brainstorm many new ideas to improve. Overall I received 60+ business cards, and almost all of those came from genuine conversations and real connections. I had the biggest smile on my face when I made it through security at the airport on the way back to Denver and ran into Matt Breen, Matthew Wexler, and Merryn Johns one last time. As I headed to my gate, I saw Matt approaching out of the corner of my eye. I lit up, having the opportunity to hug everyone again and wish them a safe flight. Although I was tempted to join them for a drink in VIP, and almost wanted to travel to New York with them, I knew that I had unfinished business in Denver left to take care of.
I would recommend Spain to anyone who wants to have a good time. It is LGBT friendly, beautiful, and the people are compassionate. The IGLTA is one of my favorite conferences I have attended in this space, and if you are looking to focus marketing efforts on the LGBT traveler, this is one to go to.