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Mérida’s turn for LGBT biz expo

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Exhibitors gathered at this year's LGBT Confex in Puerto Villarta. Photo: Confex
Exhibitors gather at the 2014 LGBT Confex in Puerto Villarta. The action moves to Mérida in September 2015. Photo: Confex

Mérida, Yucatán — Mérida and the region has long been a magnet for gay expats, but what about LGBT tourists?

Business owners will gather here next month for the LGBT Confex International Business Forum 2015 – the biggest gay and lesbian business conference in Latin America. The expo that will help business owners, gay or straight, understand how to initiate or refine an outreach to this growing travel sector.

About 60 percent of the attendees are expected to be locals, but others will be introduced to Yucatán for the first time through the lens of the Confex, which last year convened in Puerto Vallarta.

Sponsors of the forum include Marriott and Mundo Cuervo, evidence that big businesses — particularly in the tourist sector — have embraced the economic power of the LGBT market. Last month, Travel Weekly reported that LGBT visitors accounted for 3 million of Mexico’s 29.1 million visitors in 2014, and spend almost twice as much as the average visitor.

Speakers at this year’s event include Richard Gray, director of the LGBT marketing for the Convention and Visitors Bureau of Fort Lauderdale; Deena Fidas, Head of Human Rights Campaign’s Workplace Equality Program; Ron Kuijpers, IGLTA Mexico Ambassador; Selisse Berry, CEO and Founder of Out & Equal; and Sahian Barajas and Alejandra Treviño of Aire.

Michael Berton and Robert Klie, owners of Villa Verde Mérida and Botella Verde in the Centro, will share their insights on gay-friendly business practices.

“We of course wish to promote our businesses — gay-owned and gay-friendly — to the gay travel community attending, but we also are excited by this opportunity to showcase Mérida as a comfortable beautiful city for gay tourists,” said Berton. “Mérida is the perfect city for gay travelers. It is in a country where gay marriage is legal – and more specifically for Mérida, there is a climate of acceptance, tolerance and diversity of various lifestyles. We also have great restaurants, our own Yucatecan cuisine, international cuisine, Mayan ruins, excursion destinations, museums, galleries and so much more!”

The pair will be Yucatán’s ambassadors to the uninitiated.

“Robert and I felt an instant comfort and attraction to Mérida on our first visit to Mérida and Yucatán,” said Berton. “Now we are lucky enough to live here and to introduce ;the magic’ to our many guests, clients and visitors!”

Large corporate businesses as well will extoll the virtues of a breaking from a business model that excludes large chunks of the traveling public. LGBT tourism has grown 10 percent last year alone, ahead of general statistics, and Mexico is the most popular destination for U.S. gays, said Berton. “We are seeing an increase at both of our businesses with European and mainland Mexican tourists.”

“Diversity is the one thing we all have in common and I am proud to show how in Marriott celebrates it every day,” says Apoorva Gandhi, who will represent Marriott.

Organizers expect around 300 attendees and at least 35 exhibitors.

Interest in this topic has proven to be keen. A one-day certification course on LGBT Destination Weddings this fall at the Iberostar Grand Hotel Paraiso in Playa del Carmen has sold out.

But there is plenty of room at the Siglo XXI Convention Center, where the event — now in its fifth year — will run Sept.  18-19, beginning with an 8 p.m. opening reception at the nearby Gran Museo del Mundo Maya.

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