Interview with Marta Dalla Chiesa, Director of Brazil Ecojourneys, IGLTA (International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association), and ABRATGLS (Associação Brasileria de Turismo para Gays, Lésbicas e Simpatizants).

April 27, 2011

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I recently had the opportunity to interview a passionate promoter of gay tourism in the Brazilian market. Along with her British partner, Lesley Cushing, the couple has found a way to bring the concept of ecotourism to the LGBT community in Brazil and abroad implementing a wide variety of best practices. It is a great pleasure for me to proudly introduce Marta as a personal dear long time friend. 

Marta Dalla Chiesa

• In general, where is Brazil positioned in the global LGBT tourism map and in the Latin American region?

In a way we've just started in Brazil to make international travel marketing but we are much better organized than many countries. For example, we have a Brazilian LGBT travel association (ABRATGLS) since 2004. Only Australia, Canada and Brazil have a LGBT national travel Association in the world.

• How does the Brazilian government support and collaborate with gay tourism in Brazil? How did this support come about?

We recently signed an agreement with the Brazilian Tourist Board exclusively for marketing Brazil abroad and that will bring us a lot more power and consistency in terms of knowing the market, because now the information we've got is pretty circumstantial. We are going to have training, materials, and opinion surveys sponsored by the government through the association (ABRATGLS).

• What are the principal travel markets for Brazil?

They are mainly 40% Europeans, 30% from North America and 30% from South America and the rest of the word. Regarding our community, some surveys show that the International gay tourists (in general not just Eco), are approximately 75% gay men and 25% lesbians.

• What would you say are some differences between gay and straight travelers?

There's interesting information mainly from the US that says 80% of gay and lesbians have a passport in the US, while in the general population less than 24% have one. So travelling abroad is much more significant in the LGBT community. We travel more and spend more per year in travel than the general population. This doesn't mean we necessarily have more money, but that we have more “spendable” money than straight people in general.

• To some extent, all of us in the gay community have suffered a certain degree of discrimination in our lives. Do you believe this situation might make us more sensitive to the needs of caring for our planet? Would you say we have a greater predisposition to environmental commitment?

There are studies that have been done in the US and, yes, the LGBT community cares more about green issues. This also could be influenced by the fact that the LGBT community has a higher education than the general population.

• What are some of the main issues being discussed at IGLTA and what are some of the contributions you will derive for the day-to-day practice of your business?

The main purpose of these meetings and conventions are to get people together, do networking, we learn about new destinations, training sessions and learn about business to business opportunities.

• What motivated you and your partner to create Brazil Ecojourneys?

The way we view our company is very much the way we love to travel. For instance we don't like mass tourism that destroys the destinations and that's why we created a company that work with suppliers that give you attention, family run hotels, etc We believe that in a natural spot, if you go for small places with small groups and choosing things that are local, you make ecotourism more sustainable and an enjoyable experience.

• How do you operate?

At Brazil Ecojourneys, we specialize in South Brazil ecotourism, we are based in the city of Florianopolis and all our services are outsourced, from guides to drivers are freelancers. We offer services to other operators or travel agencies (UK, Germany, US, Holland) and in the internet we are also well positioned.

• How are you able to implement best practices in such a highly competitive business segment?

The way we operate is very much in a small scale. For instance, ever since we've started we did a careful selection of places and suppliers and then visited every single hotel or guest house so we know if they have green policies, if they are totally gay friendly, etc. So we know our suppliers very well and we are very close to them.

• Are you currently running any Social Responsibility programs? If so, please describe them.

We support conservational projects in Florianopolis, such as the River Otter project from Instituto Ekko Brasil and promote local organizations that work with sustainable tourism such as Acolhida na Colonia, and Instituto Ilhas do Brasil by creating community-based tourism around their projects and promoting them in trade fairs.

• What turned Florianopolis into such a relevant gay destination?

I think Florianopolis has a little bit of the story of San Francisco, California in which alternative people moved to live in a small place that became much more liberal and cosmopolitan than other cities of the same size. That happened in Florianopolis in the 70's. I remember coming in the 80's to Carnival and it had (and still does) a complete gay area. Five years ago with all the electronic scene from Sao Paolo and the international gay cruises coming to town during summer, Florianopolis just exploded as a gay destination!

• You were the pioneer organizers behind the Florianopolis Pride Festival? Tell us more about this.

When we moved here on 2003, Florianopolis had this fame of being quite gay but at the same time it was a small city of just 400,000 inhabitants that never had an organized Pride. So as we arrived we participated on an event for the LGBT community. From there, a small group of gay-owned business formed an association (AEGLBTS- Associa̤̣o de Empreendedores GLBT de Santa Catarina) to organize the first Pride festival. It happened in 2006, on the day of the World Cup finals and 10,000 people attended, which was a LOT for a 1st edition. It grew year on year Рlast year we had over 100,000 people and it is already considered one of the best Prides in Brazil.

• What plans do you have to leverage Brazil's unique opportunity as the sponsor of the next World Cup and the 2016 Olympics? What do you foresee might be some challenges? Would you say this is important for gay tourism?

It's going to be interesting because the general perception, despite the fact that Gay Games and Out Games, the international Gay & Lesbian “Olympics” attract thousands of athletes and supporters to every edition, is that gays are not interested in sports. But I am sure that we will have many gay & lesbian tourists coming to the World Cup and the Olympics. The good thing is that the Brazilian government is preparing the local tourism trade to receive well tourists that will come to these events and the LGBTs will be contemplated too. I think we have a very good opportunity to give our segment a much larger visibility.

Thanks Marta!